Larger helmet could guard against brain injury to troops

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Larger helmet could guard against brain injury to troops

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

Updated 4/17/2011 9:42 PM |

The Army could reduce the risk of brain injury to soldiers simply by having them wear a size larger helmet containing slightly thicker padding, according to a study to be released today.


By Haraz N. Ghanbari, AP

A U.S. Army soldier patrols near the village of Tarok Kolache on April 1 in the Arghandab River Valley of Afghanistan.

An eighth of an inch more in cushion could decrease the force of an impact to the skull by 24%, according to findings by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Brain injury is a common occurrence in Afghanistan, and the Army wants to verify the findings and move toward possibly issuing larger helmets with the extra padding, Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller says.

Fuller, outgoing commander of the Army office that equips soldiers, said the results are encouraging and possibly worth fielding on a limited and experimental basis with a brigade of soldiers. He said more research and validation of the findings are necessary.

Last summer, battlefield doctors in Afghanistan diagnosed more than 300 servicemembers per month with concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries and smaller numbers of servicemembers with more moderate or severe head wounds.

Concussions are a common wound among troops knocked about inside armored vehicles or flung to the ground while on foot patrols by an explosion from a roadside bomb, or improvised explosive device (IED). The study’s findings offer an answer drawn from equipment the Army already has, researchers say.

“This is what appears to be an off-the-shelf solution,” says William Moss, a Lawrence Livermore physicist who co-authored the study.

Helmets normally weigh about 5½ pounds. A size larger headgear would add about 4 ounces, Moss says. The study, which was funded by the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) found that adding padding beyond an eighth of an inch provided slightly better protection,but the Army is sensitive about creating helmets that are too large or heavy for soldiers, said Army Col. Todd Dombroski, former JIEDDO surgeon.

The scientists at Livermore compared the padding material used in sports equipment, including NFL football helmets, with that used in combat helmets. They found that the padding for sports helmets offered no better protection.

Trying to diminish the force of a blunt impact to the head is only one problem military scientists face in improving helmet protection for troops in the field, Dombroski said.

In combat, the brain is vulnerable to shrapnel and the blast wave from an explosion.

Although scientists might improve protection against a blow to the head, they have yet to develop bulletproof helmets or those that can guard against a blast wave.

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