April 1, 2011

Oregon is home base for about 1,000 active duty military men and women and more than 16,000 reservists. Those who are deployed in combat zones or who are training for combat face many risks, certainly, but we’ve learned over the last few years that traumatic brain injury is at the top of the list. Researchers announced this week that there’s a simple way to reduce the risk of TBI.

Soldiers should wear a helmet that’s a size too large that’s fitted with extra padding. The study found that an eighth of an inch of additional cushion can decrease the force of an impact to the head by 24 percent. Researchers had tried adding even more padding, which offered slightly better protection, but the Army was reluctant to make helmets too large or too heavy.

The extra size doesn’t add too much extra weight, either. On the average, a helmet weighs 5.5 pounds. The next larger size is only about 4 ounces heavier.

Additional research is necessary, according to the study’s authors, but the initial results are encouraging. An Army representative told the press that the helmets could be fielded with a brigade of soldiers on a limited and experimental basis.

Last summer alone, more than 300 servicemen and women were diagnosed with concussions or mild TBIevery month. Smaller numbers suffered more serious head injuries. Most of the injuries are caused by roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The blast knocks troops around inside armored vehicles or throws them to the ground when they’re on foot patrols.

These aren’t the only sources of brain injury, though. Shrapnel and blast waves from explosions are also problems, and these helmets won’t keep soldiers any safer from that kind of harm. They aren’t bulletproof, for example.

Researchers looked at all kinds of existing protective gear as they developed the padding solution. They tested NFL football helmets and found that the padding in those offered no better protection. The NFL has emphasized concussion awareness this year.

Source: USA Today, “Larger helmet could guard against brain injury to troops,” Gregg Zoroya, 04/18/20


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