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The Military Science

Military Helmet Design Contributes To Brain Damage 294

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the minor-oversights dept.
BuzzSkyline writes "Improvements in helmets have helped modern soldiers survive bullets and blasts that would have killed them in past wars. But increasing numbers of soldiers are suffering long lasting brain damage from explosions, partly as a result of what appears to be a flaw in helmet designs. Although the blast itself may not accelerate the brain inside a soldier's head enough to cause injury, shockwaves that make it through the space between a helmet and a soldier's head can cause the skull to flex, leading to ripples in the skull that can create damaging pressures in the brain. Simulations that relied on 'code originally designed to simulate how a detonated weapon rattles a building or tank' could lead to new helmets that reduce the traumatic brain injuries that many soldiers suffer as a result of improvised explosive devices and other moderate-sized blasts. The research is due to be published in Physical Review Letters, but a pre-print of the entire article is currently available on the Physics ArXiv."
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Military Helmet Design Contributes To Brain Damage

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  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:08PM (#29265589)

    War really does lead to some of our race's biggest advances.

    Although they did fail to consider the motivating potential of porn as well. Stupid Shadows...

  • Re:Scary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OnomatopoeiaSound (1276560) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:12PM (#29265641)
    Is it possible to design the helmets in such a way that prevents this? If not, it might be a necessary evil. I would rather run the risk of TBI than have my head shot off or something, honestly. It might just be a sad side effect of our need to have soldiers.
  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:13PM (#29265659) Journal

    Helmets which "have helped modern soldiers survive bullets and blasts that would have killed them in past wars" are being accused of causing brain damage.

    I guess boxing gloves cause brain damage, too? Or maybe it's boxing that causes brain damage, and the gloves reduce the risk...

    Now, if they can make better helmets that reduce the risk of brain damage even further, props to them. That doesn't mean the current generation of helmets are "causing" brain damage.

  • Misleading Title? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by quatin (1589389) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:18PM (#29265725)
    I'm not following the title. An explosion near the head causes brain damage. Wearing a helmet mitigates the effects of the explosion. A military helmet is not maximally effective in mitigating the effects. How did we arrive at a military helmet causes brain damage?
  • by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:19PM (#29265753)
    Really. Please stop. There was a common word for it. It's called a bomb. If there is some sort of hidden triggering mechanism present, then it is a booby-trap. If the payload is large enough, then it is a landmine. I do believe that the US military started to call it IED for Orwellian-like doublespeak reasons.
  • by szo (7842) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:19PM (#29265757)

    It's 'causing' the brain damage in a way that it prevents the solder from dying and thus hiding the symptoms of the brain damage :)

  • Actually not. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ljaszcza (741803) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:21PM (#29265793)
    What a headline. Actually, overall, I would think that helmets reduce injury and death. Both in combat and civilian arenas. Just because an inefficiency in military helmet design exists is no reason to say that "Helmet Design Contributes to Brain Damage". As compared to what? Taking shrapnel or a bullet without a helmet? Now the article does suggest that the helmet may increase skull deformation from pressure waves secondary to the helmet design. But the authors admit that these are preliminary results and may or may not relate to the final outcome; TBI. Still, if this line of research pans out, it could lead to some real improvement in head protection. Civilian and military. I just hate misleading, sensational headlines...
  • Brain damage (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mcfatboy93 (1363705) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:25PM (#29265857) Homepage

    It causes less damage if you use them, even if some scientist found a small flaw in their design. I think a bullet to the head would cause more problems then you brain taking a hit because your helmet stopped the bullet.

    I would also be more worried about the person shooting at you.

  • Re:Actually not. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@a[ ]com ['ol.' in gap]> on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:28PM (#29265903) Journal

    That's so true.. it's like blaming seatbelts for shoulder injuries sustained during collisions... of course, the alternative is MUCH worse...

  • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArbitraryDescriptor (1257752) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:30PM (#29265929)

    Certainly it's possible, they just need better shock absorption. The current design transmits too much of the shock to the skull.

    This problem is actually caused by the helmet's method of not transmitting shock to the skull. FTA:

    To protect soldiers from bullets and shrapnel, modern helmet design maintains a 1.3-cm gap between helmet and head; in the simulation, the blast wave washed into the helmet through this gap. "The helmet acts as a windscoop, so the pressure between the skull and helmet is larger than the blast wave by itself," King said. While the ACH's pads mostly prevented this underwash, they also passed on forces to the skull.

    So the trick is keeping the overpressure out of the helmet, while keeping it separated from the skull. Perhaps a dual helmet design; Rigid outer shell to absorb and deflect impact, and a second separate inner covering to resist overpressure. Either that, or in place of ACH pads, some type of system relying on fluid dynamics to redirects force forward, out the face of the helmet, rather than inward toward the skull.

  • by Kamokazi (1080091) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:34PM (#29265991)

    Logic. Specifically, journalistic logic. An accurate title would be boring, so logically you create a title that is more interesting and is also based on words found in the article. Duh.

  • by Tx (96709) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:37PM (#29266047) Journal

    Actually, while there is plenty of military doublespeak that could be dispensed with, "IED" I am perfectly happy with. "Improvised" is a worthwhile adjective to use in this context, because the improvised devices do typically have different characteristics from the closest equivalent professionally made devices, so you want to use that or some other adjective (you could use "home made" if you like, but that sounds like you're talking about pie, not weaponry). And since the term covers a range of blast, shrapnel, and incendiary devices, "explosive device" pretty much covers it. For once, it's actually a concise and descriptive acronym.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:43PM (#29266157)

    I guess boxing gloves cause brain damage, too? Or maybe it's boxing that causes brain damage, and the gloves reduce the risk...

    Boxing gloves cause more damage than they prevent.

    Boxing gloves are meant to protect a boxer's hands, not his opponent's head. They do that so well that a modern boxer can keep dishing out hurt long after an early 19th century bare-knuckles boxer would have had both hands incapacitated by his own blows.

    Which allows the boxer to do more damage to his opponent, thus increasing the risk of severe damage to both parties in a fight.

  • by blakedev (1397081) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:50PM (#29266241)
    But I'm in the military, and I'd rather brain damage than brain splattage.
  • by evanbd (210358) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:50PM (#29266245)

    You know, observational studies are still scientific. There are plenty of hypotheses that can be tested without randomized controlled trials.

    You're not going to claim that if astronomers really wanted to be scientific, they would start their research by gathering up a bunch of hydrogen and piling it together in empty space and then watching what happens, are you?

    It's also entirely possible your test methodology would fail. The helmet could well be preventing acute injury resulting in death (shrapnel through the skull), but increasing the diffuse brain damage to other parts of the brain. However, the death due to acute injury would make the diffuse injury rate difficult to determine. Preventing death but causing brain damage is clearly an improvement, but it doesn't mean the helmet merely "failed to completely prevent" the brain damage, if the brain damage wouldn't have occurred without it.

    Sometimes science is hard. It's still science, though, even if your "ideal" test methodology is impractical.

  • by gnick (1211984) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:50PM (#29266247) Homepage

    The gloves lessen the blow, but they also make it possible to sustain a fight for 10 rounds... that is where the damage occurs. Getting knocked out isn't that big of a deal, it's the repeated blows that mess you up.

    You'd be surprised how many perfectly intelligent people fail to understand that. I watch a lot of UFC/MMA, but have never liked boxing. People who know I'm into UFC but don't really grasp the sport get confused when I tell them that I don't like boxing because it's too brutal. Our brains just weren't meant to be pummeled like that - Especially for those kind of durations. You often see UFC fighters get knocked loopy and wander off exhausted and beaten, but rarely do you see one truly punch-drunk.

  • by russotto (537200) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:57PM (#29266351) Journal

    So what is it when it's made from artillery shells?

    I'll bet there's an army manual somewhere which says so. Probably if the artillery shells are used as artillery shells, they're not considered IEDs, but if they're rigged as a claymore, they are. Sort of like if you somehow hooked a billiard ball to your mouse to make a trackball, you'd have an IPD -- improvised pointing device.

  • by PyroMosh (287149) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:08PM (#29266507) Homepage

    Unlikely. I have no idea if it's a real disease or not, or a popular misdiagnosis for a lot of other unrelated things. However, a great number of Gulf War Syndrome cases are with personnel who were not exposed to combat. Airmen on airbases, logistics folks, troops who never saw any real resistance in action, etc., etc.

    In other words, not a lot of soldiers were exposed to explosions at close range, and a great many more folks than that tiny cross section reported GWS.

    If it's real, it would have to be caused by something either pathogenic (unlikely, given that it seems the disease was not brought back home and spread to others) or environmental.

    Environmental causes seem more likely because of the sheer number of possible candidates.

    1. Burning oil wells, and the chemical muck that produced
    2. The first wide scale use of depleted uranium munitions
    3. Exposure to chemical weapons. Although chemical erapons were not deployed by Iraq during the war, some troops were exposed incidentally when storage facilities were destroyed.
    4. Chemical agents and vaccines used to protect against chemical and biological weapons

    All of these are suspect. There are studies saying yes, and no to most, if not all of these possible sources. Compound that with the real probability, that even if it's real, a great number of cases are probably folks who are scared and have some other disorder, who have convinced themselves otherwise, on top of the unscrupulous folks who are trying to turn this into a personal payday... we may never know if it's real, let alone what causes it if it is.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:17PM (#29266617)

    Helmets which "have helped modern soldiers survive bullets and blasts that would have killed them in past wars" are being accused of causing brain damage.

    Yes. Because they do. The net effect on survivability may be positive, but they still appear to cause specific kinds of brain injuries.

    Observing that this is the case and understanding it is the first step to designing helmets that have the same beneficial features as current helemts without while eliminating or mitigating the injury-causing features, thus further improving the net benefit.

    I guess boxing gloves cause brain damage, too?

    Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but that's irrelevant to the issue here.

    Now, if they can make better helmets that reduce the risk of brain damage even further, props to them. That doesn't mean the current generation of helmets are "causing" brain damage.

    No, what means that the current generation of helmets is causing brain damage is the specific evidence which shows that, in fact, designs like those currently used cause injuries that would not occur without the helmet. From TFS (emphasis added): "Although the blast itself may not accelerate the brain inside a soldier's head enough to cause injury, shockwaves that make it through the space between a helmet and a soldier's head can cause the skull to flex, leading to ripples in the skull that can create damaging pressures in the brain."

    TFA itself specifically notes how both the web-style suspension of the old PASGT helmets and the foam suspension of the newer ACH helmets contribute to brain injury by different mechanisms (PASGT by allowing the blast wave to "underwash" the helmet--which seems to be what TFS is referring--ACH, while avoiding that, by tightly coupling deformations of the helmet to the head.)

  • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:51PM (#29267067)

    from you:

    [...] the helmet isnt actually causing brain damage. The critique is in the design not preventing something that could be fixed[...]

    from the article:

    [...]. "The helmet acts as a windscoop, so the pressure between the skull and helmet is larger than the blast wave by itself," [...]

    do you see the disparity? Are you reading the fucking article? In the case of a shockwave; wearing the helmet may be worse than not wearing it.

  • Re:Scary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:12PM (#29267857)

    Thus it may be possible to solve the problem, but not without tradeoffs...

    So then the soldier is stuck with a helmet that is even more bulky and weighs ten pounds and has a tendency to trap a lot of body heat unless an active liquid cooling system is deployed. And after it's deployed, you then see a lot of soldiers not wearing them because they prefer to have more mobility and endurance on the battlefield.

    In other words, sometimes one compromise is still better than another.

  • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:01PM (#29268709)

    Completely Prevent? Your brain is either damaged or it isn't. There really isn't an inbetween there.

    I would submit that there's a slight difference between 1) trouble moving your left hand and slurred speech, 2) unable to speak or move anything on the left side of your body, and 3) dead.

  • That is "dead" on (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CFD339 (795926) <andrewp AT thenorth DOT com> on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:43PM (#29269043) Homepage Journal

    My read was exactly the same. The helmets are now so much better at protecting heads than anything ever has been in the past, that we're having to model air pressure caused skull flex in order to find something to make better. That's fantastic! Not too long ago the trauma was more likely to be a piece of a bomb going through the brain that caused the damage.

    And yeah -- anything they can do to make them better is a good thing, but lets applaud how far they've come.

    The only thing I'd add, is that if we could find a way to have less soldiers in the way of bombs and bullets, we could be less aggressive on helmet designs too. Ah well.

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work. -- Herbert V. Prochnow

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