Comparison of Laboratory and On-Field Performance of American Football Helmets

Ann Biomed Eng. 2020 Nov;48(11):2531-2541. doi: 10.1007/s10439-020-02627-5. Epub 2020 Oct 6.


The relationship between laboratory and on-field performance of football helmets was assessed for 31 football helmet models selected from those worn by players in the 2015-2019 National Football League (NFL) seasons. Linear impactor tests were conducted with helmets placed on an instrumented Hybrid III head and neck assembly mounted on a sliding table. Based on impacts to each helmet at six impact locations and three velocities, a helmet performance score (HPS) was calculated using a linear combination of the head injury criterion (HIC) and the diffuse axonal multi-axis general evaluation (DAMAGE). To determine the on-field performance of helmets, helmet model usage, player participation, and incident concussion data were collected from the five NFL seasons and used to calculate helmet model-specific concussion rates. Comparison of laboratory HPS to the helmet model-specific concussion rates on a per play basis showed a positive correlation (r2 = 0.61, p < 0.001) between laboratory and on-field performance of helmet models, indicating that helmets which exhibited reduced impact severity in the laboratory tests were also generally associated with lower concussion rates on-field. Further analysis showed that NFL-prohibited helmet models exhibited a significantly higher odds of concussion (OR 1.24; 95% CI 1.04-1.47; p = 0.017) relative to other helmet models.

Keywords: American football; Biomechanics; Concussion; Head injury; Helmet.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Brain Concussion / physiopathology
  • Brain Concussion / prevention & control*
  • Football / injuries*
  • Head / physiopathology
  • Head Protective Devices*
  • Humans
  • United States