The degenerative brain disease known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, can only be formally diagnosed via an autopsy. Still facing a concussion epidemic, professional football cannot afford to wait that long to address the problem in its players. One of the more promising solutions to have emerged is the SpeedFlex helmet, featuring InSite technology that allows training staff to monitor the hits their players have taken in real time.
According to the medical journal JAMA, a recent study of the brains of 111 former football players showed that 99% were found to have CTE. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and even suicidal behavior. This is no mere list. It is a public health crisis.
Helmet manufacturers are at the frontline of defense, more so than ever before. Industry leaders include Riddell and Schutt. Both have focused on improving designs rather than heading back to the drawing board. Riddell’s SpeedFlex helmet, equipped with Insite, has been a step in the right direction but too few companies have stepped up to the plate in terms of innovation.
That is where Seattle-based medical technology company Vicis comes in. Their first helmet, the Zero1, was sketched on a napkin by pediatric neurosurgeon, Sam Browd. Browd was tired of telling young athletes who had suffered numerous concussions that their days of playing contact sports had come to an end. This led him to co-found Vicis with its CEO, Dave Marver.
The design of the Zero1 is composed of four distinct layers. The first is the Lode Shell. It absorbs severe hits by deforming at the point of impact. Next, the Core acts like an accordion. It bends in all directions to help diminish the effects of collisions with the helmet. The Arch Shell is designed to precisely match the player’s aspect ratio, or the relationship between head length and breadth. It works in tandem with the Form Liner, which provides a snug and comfortable fit while simultaneously distributing pressure on the head.
Proper fit is the key. Instead of measuring the circumference of a player’s head and adding internal padding to close the gaps, Vicis measures head length and breadth. The ultimate goal is decelerating the player’s head after impact. The only question remaining is what can be done beyond helmet innovation?
Plenty of neurosurgeons have suggested that more severe punishments be dealt to players who perpetrate helmet to helmet hits. They are the leading cause of concussions. Until football leagues do more to limit trauma-inducing hits, testing continues to prevent these traumatic brain injuries.