Hockey Helmet Testing and Fitting
Leading up to 2014, researchers at Virginia Tech collected data from player impact after impact on the hockey rink. This data would eventually be used to design a series of 48 tests simulating real-world collisions hockey players could potentially experience, and how well different brands of helmets would protect them from concussions. Virginia Tech’s five-star rating system is now the industry standard.
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What is a Concussion?
Before you can understand what factors in a helmet most contribute to preventing concussions in hockey players, you need to know what causes a concussion. A concussion is most simply explained as bruising of the brain as a result of a sudden acceleration or deceleration. The linear and rotational forces that often cause a person to lose consciousness following an impact also create a swirling motion inside of the skull. The forces at play cause the brain to strike the inside of the skull at the point of impact, as well as the opposite side of the skull. The reason that loss of consciousness and concussions are so closely related is exactly because of those forces.
Now you know what a concussion is, as well as what forces most contribute to them. So let’s talk helmet testing. That rotational force that makes brains swirl around inside of people’s heads is what needs to be reduced if concussions are going to be prevented. Using the data from real-world hockey games, researchers discovered that an anvil slamming into a dummy head with a helmet generated the same force as a player being checked into the boards. That is just one of the many tests that are repeated hundreds of times during the testing process.
In 2014, Virginia Tech rated every helmet on the market. None of them stacked up. The highest rated helmet only had 3 out of 5 stars. Science spoke and the hockey industry listened. Using information from testing, companies are designing new helmets that are earning higher safety rating.
A perfectly designed helmet is only as good as how it fits the player. A lot of players like to wear a loose chin strap. This is dangerous because the helmet is much more likely to be knocked off of the players head during an impact without a tight-fitting chinstrap. No more than two fingers should fit between the player's face and chinstrap.
Moving up from the chin strap is the fit of the actual helmet on the player’s head. A properly fitted helmet should not move when a player is shaking his head up and down, or side to side. This piece of the fitting is crucial in the effectiveness of the helmet. If the helmet moves around, it isn’t going to absorb impact. Instead, the force of the hit will simply pass through the helmet to the player’s head.
Technology is always improving safety on the ice, make sure you keep up. If you do experience a concussion, do not use that helmet again, especially if the shell is cracked or broken.
If you are serious about staying safe on the ice, keep your helmet updated to protect your greatest asset.