Change in size and impact performance of football helmets from the 1970s to 2010

Ann Biomed Eng. 2012 Jan;40(1):175-84. doi: 10.1007/s10439-011-0395-1. Epub 2011 Oct 13.


Linear impactor tests were conducted on football helmets from the 1970s-1980s to complement recently reported tests on 1990 s and 2010 s helmets. Helmets were placed on the Hybrid III head with an array of accelerometers to determine translational and rotational acceleration. Impacts were at four sites on the helmet shell at 3.6-11.2 m/s. The four generations of helmets show a continuous improvement in response from bare head impacts in terms of Head Injury Criterion (HIC), peak head acceleration and peak rotational acceleration. Helmets of 2010 s weigh 1.95 ± 0.2 kg and are 2.7 times heavier than 1970s designs. They are also 4.3 cm longer, 7.6 cm higher, and 4.9 cm wider. The extra size and weight allow the use of energy absorbing padding that lowers forces in helmet impacts. For frontal impacts at 7.4 m/s, the four best performing 2010 s helmets have HIC of 148 ± 23 compared to 179 ± 42 for the 1990 s baseline, 231 ± 27 for the 1980s, 253 ± 22 for the 1970s helmets, and 354 ± 3 for the bare head. The additional size and padding of the best 2010 s helmets provide superior attenuation of impact forces in normal play and in conditions associated with concussion than helmets of the 1970s-1990 s.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Equipment Design / history*
  • Football / history*
  • Head
  • Head Protective Devices / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Materials Testing
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Sports Equipment / history*