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The Military Science

Military Helmet Design Contributes To Brain Damage 294

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 mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:24PM (#29265835) Homepage Journal

    Actually, the gloves DO cause brain damage. It's nearly impossible to knock someone our bare handed with a blow to the temple, but easy as hell with gloves. The glove protects the hands, not the face. Notice that in college or olympic boxing they wear protective gear on their heads?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:25PM (#29265851)

    Nowhere in the article, summary, or headline are helmets stated as the cause of brain damage. All state that the helmet design contributes to the brain damage and the article and summary are both very clear on how the brain actually gets damaged. Work on your reading comprehension.

  • Re:Misleading Title? (Score:2, Informative)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:28PM (#29265893) Homepage Journal

    It's explained in TFA.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:28PM (#29265901) Journal
    IED = improvised explosive device. As opposed to an explosive device made on a production line somewhere. The military loves acronyms even more than the rest of government, so I doubt there's any Orwellian reason for the name.
  • *sigh* (Score:3, Informative)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:31PM (#29265943) Homepage Journal


    David Moore, a vascular neurologist and the deputy director of research at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, headquartered in Washington, D.C., said that the skull flexure mechanism proposed by the physicists is just one hypothesis among several competing concepts of blast waves and injury. "Like all these hypotheses theres yet work to be done in terms of validation," he said. "There are too many unknown variables from the constitutive properties of brain and skull at high strain rates along with other associated blast phenomena."

    The team considered the performance of Kevlar helmets with two kinds of cushioning systems: a nylon web system that was retired in 2003, and the foam pads of the Advanced Combat Helmet, which is standard-issue for today's soldiers. The results were unsettling.

    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.

    King suggested that the pads' stiffness could be optimized to "take the best of both worlds; it doesn't allow the blast in there, and it doesn't transfer [forces] from the helmet to the head." He stressed that when making changes to the helmet, preserving its ability to reduce impacts and fend off bullets was paramount. "You'd have to be careful to make sure it doesn't interfere with what the helmet does very well, which is stopping fragments and bullets," he said. "The whole idea why there was a big gap between skull and helmet in the first place, is it makes it more likely for the soldier to survive if a bullet hits the helmet."

  • by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:44PM (#29266163) Homepage
    From TFA: "The helmet acts as a windscoop, so the pressure between the skull and helmet is larger than the blast wave by itself,.."

    With a direct gunshot to the head the head saves their lives, but with indirect shockwaves (i.e. an IED going off a few meters away) the helmets have been shown to increase the likelihood of a TBI.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:44PM (#29266165) Homepage Journal

    Actually, there's some very good reasons for calling them IEDs. IED stands for Improvised Explosive Device, of course. What this means is that the explosive device in question is not standard. This matters when it comes to disarming/making them safe.

    If a EOD guy comes across an unexploded MK82, he knows precisely how to disarm it - it's standardized. Same deal with most land mines*, claymore devices, unmodified artillery shells**, and the rest of the world's standard military munitions. We even have books on foreign country's stuff, including Russian and old USSR weapons.

    Each IED, even if from the same maker, is far more unique, presenting unique challanges when it comes to disarming them.

    Oh, and being designated as a land mine doesn't mean a 'large enough' payload, it means it's buried in the ground with an appropriate sensor/detonator to explode when something's over it. Most are pressure sensitive, some anti-vehicle types have magnetic detonators.

    Bombs are generally assumed to be dropped out of planes, but then I'm Air Force.

    *Though booby-trapping can be an issue with these.
    **Many are converted into IEDs via non-conventional detonation systems in Iraq/Afghanistan.

  • by megamerican ( 1073936 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:56PM (#29266325)

    I wonder if this may be the cause of "Gulf War Syndrome" we heard a lot about a few years back...

    How would a shock to the head cause auto-immune diseases, which is what Gulf War Syndrome is? []

    "Gulf War Syndrome, or GWS, is the term which has been applied to the multi-symptom rheumatic disorder experienced by many veterans of the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf war. A similar disorder appeared in 1990-1991-era personnel who were never deployed to the Persian Gulf theater of operations and also in other military personnel, including participants in the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, or AVIP, which was inaugurated in 1997. No data has ever suggested that the disorder experienced by the deployed 1990-1991 soldiers is different from the disorder experienced by the other groups of patients, but the other cases have not been considered to be cases of GWS.

    Squalene was found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in five lots of the AVIP anthrax vaccine. The discovery of serum anti-squalene antibodies and the development of a test to detect these antibodies has made it possible to see that links appear to exist between the contaminated AVIP vaccine lots, the illness experienced by post-1997 vaccine recipients, the illness experienced by non-deployed 1990-1991-era patients, and the illness in deployed 1990-1991-era patients that has been referred to as GWS."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:59PM (#29266393)

    Most IEDs and VBIEDs are comprised from production line munitions including anti-tank mines and cars loaded with artillery shells. The improvised part generally stems from the trigger mechanism, mobile phones, remote locking systems.

  • by kashani ( 2011 ) <> on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:00PM (#29266399) Homepage Journal

    This is completely false. Idiot people who don't want to have to wear a helmet continue to bring that nonsense up. Think about it. How can a helmet which spreads an impact out over a large space *and* absorbs impact via padding be worse than no helmet at all.

  • by JerkBoB ( 7130 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:12PM (#29266545)

    So the choice seemed to be pretty and brain damaged, or ugly and smart.

    I think they've redesigned the helmets since then.

    I think the choice was more like "pretty, possibly brain-damaged, but ALIVE" and "face ground off by asphalt and DEAD".

    I have personally witnessed two motorcycle accidents... In the first one, the guy dumped his bike while making a tight turn at a rain-slicked intersection. His (helmeted) head hit the pavement hard. Probably wouldn't have killed him, but he would definitely not have been getting up to ride after that without a helmet. Second one, the poor bastard hit a deer at about 70mph. Cut the thing right in two, and he slid on the highway for a while. I stopped to help him, and I saw up-close how badly chewed-up his helmet was. Lucky for him he wasn't one of those assholes who rides wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. His gloved hands were a bit bloody, his knee was probably broken, and his helmet had been worn down in one spot so far that I could see the internal layers. But he was alive.

    I know you were talking about older bike helmet designs, but I hate to see anything that could give no-helmet idiots more fuel for rationalizing their stupidity and selfishness.

  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Informative)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:26PM (#29266769)

    I think that a scientific study for determining just how much military helmets actually contribute to brain damage when the soldier is exposed to an explosion would start by base-lining the brain conditions of 50 or so soldiers. Then, expose them all to the same explosion at the same stand-off orientation, half of them wearing helmets and half without. Then, re-test.

    In summary, run them thru the ASVAB after the incident and compare the before and after scores. []

    The main problem is the ASVAB was redesigned in '02 and rescored in '04. If it were not for that, you could just run them thru the full battery of MEPS tests (Military Enlistment Processing Station).

    One problem is the soldiers not wearing helmets are more likely to be inside the vehicle, so you're measuring truck drivers vs infantry instead of helmet vs non-helmet. Even if you correct for MOS (military occupational specialty, essentially your military job title), that still does not compare wearing helmet vs not wearing helmet, but merely means comparing lazyness stupidity or likelihood of disobeying orders vs not.

    Running a real world experiment is complicated enough, that you're better off modeling brain hydrodynamics.

  • by PyroMosh ( 287149 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:27PM (#29266787) Homepage

    Well, the helmets are designed primarily to be bullet resistant. One of the features it has that makes it bullet resistant is that the helmet doesn't sit on your head, it sits on a web suspension, and the helmet itself surrounds your head by about 1.3cm. That gap helps prevent rounds from penetrating the helmet.

    What the study is saying is that the same gap, put there on purpose because it's beneficial against bullets and shrapnel, allows the shockwave blast from an explosion to be more effective against the skull and brain than helmets without the gap.

    So now the next generation of helmets will likely try to find a happy balance between the gap, and perhaps some kind of foam solution as the article discusses. It's just more data to further refine designs with for the next generation of this particular technology.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:32PM (#29266829)

    So the choice seemed to be pretty and brain damaged, or ugly, smart and dead.

    There, fixed it for you

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:34PM (#29266857)
    It actually can. the M1A2 tank is coated with depleted uranium. If the tank gets hit(assuming the armor isnt penetrated, knocking the tank out)it can release particles of the depleted uranium. While there is not much radiation left in the uranium, enough exposure could possibly lead to a rise in cancer risk.
  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:39PM (#29266923) Homepage

    They also make it possible to hit the head. Without gloves you'd break your hands if you stood there punching at somebody's head. In the old days of bare-knuckle boxing most of the blows were to the body. There were a lot of bruised ribs but hardly anybody died.

  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Informative)

    by ( 1195047 ) <philip.paradis@p ... net minus author> on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:41PM (#29266947) Homepage Journal
    You remind me of a friend I had in the Navy. Especially on submarines, it's not always a good thing to be able to fit into tight spaces, although I must say my buddy was well regarded among the crew. Ah, the things he could clean...
  • Opinion of a Soldier (Score:5, Informative)

    by slpalmer ( 6337 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <remlapls>> on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:47PM (#29267005)

    I think a lot of this stems from the way the current helmet is fitted to the soldiers head. (Yes, I am a soldier, 18th Airborne Corp, Ft Bragg, NC)

      1 - The older Kevlar helmet was fitted to your head with a "sweat band" strapped to the inside of the helmet, which could be adjusted to fit your head exactly.

      2 - The newer ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet) is fitted with velcro backed pads which attach inside the helmet.

    Let me say now that it is *very* common for CIF (where you get issued your equipment) to be out of your size and give you the next size up. With the older Kevlar (case 1 above) you could still fit the sweat band to fit your head, securing the helmet. With the ACH (case 2 above) if the helmet is too big, the pads will be loose on your head, and the helmet will rattle around on your head when concussions occur nearby.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:51PM (#29267069) Homepage

    shockwaves that make it through the space between a helmet and a soldier's head

    Either Jarhead isn't wearing his helmet properly or there IS a major flaw in the design.

    Or maybe you don't know what you are talking about.

    Have you ever worn a bike helmet that was 3 sizes too large? How effective was it?

    Apples and anchovies. Other than belonging to the same general class of 'helmets', these two types have little to do with each other as they have widely divergent design goals. A bike helmet is meant to protect against abrasion and strong impacts - a soldier's helmet is designed to resist penetration, create ricochets (I.E. divert incoming projectiles), and absorb impacts major and minor *while remaining comfortable to wear for extended periods*.
    Additionally, a bicycle helmet and a hard hat can be designed to be essentially disposable... You have an accident, you go get a new helmet. A combat helmet has to remain functional for extended periods despite suffering damage - you can't stop in mid battle to go down and buy a new one.
    While a bicycle helmet three sizes too large would be ineffective, a soldier's helmet three sizes too large still provides the considerable protection against the threat(s) it's designed against

    If the helmet has an inch of gap, its no surprise that helmets are hitting troops with more effective damage then if they were wearing nothing at all.

    On the other hand, the gap was added because it made the helmets more comfortable - and protective gear that is more comfortable to wear is protective gear that's more likely to be worn. (Manufacturers and designers of soldiers combat gear, hard hats, and motorcycle helmets have been struggling with that balance for years.) You see the same thing in the construction worker's hard hat, it sits above the head for ventilation, rather than close to head. The additional gap (in both) also allows the suspension to absorb and diffuse shock from minor impacts and ricochets.
    If your casual biker was required to wear a helmet for extended periods for work, rather than for relatively short periods as desired for fun, you can bet your bottom dollar they'd be designed differently. *Way* differently.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:54PM (#29267115)
    Even without being as much of a cancer causing agent like the radioactive isotope U235, U238 can lead to heavy-metal poisoning.
  • Re:In other news... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:01PM (#29267197) Homepage

    I think he's just complaining that "contributing" isn't really fair. It implies that brain damage would be less if no helmets were worn. This is obviously false, as the helmet prevents, not contributes to, brain damage.

    No, it isn't obviously false, because it is possible that a poor helmet design could increase brain damage in situations where without the helmet a lesser amount or no damage would occur.

    In fact based on their simulations they believe that this is the case, that the helmet can actually act as a funnel for the shockwave and increase the force felt by the skull. Based on the fact that it is a simulation, I'm sure they pile up enough "could"s or "possibly"s to make even the most nitpicky slashdotter happy, and thus the claim is completely fair.

  • by slpalmer ( 6337 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <remlapls>> on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:02PM (#29267209)

    One addition...

    The current issue of Army Times is reporting that there is a newer "plastic" helmet in the pipeline to replace the ACH.

  • by XnavxeMiyyep ( 782119 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:09PM (#29267283)
    Also, in UFC, when the fighter is knocked out, even for an instant, the fight is over. In boxing, they have a ten count that allows them to get back up and continue fighting.
  • by weiserfireman ( 917228 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:46PM (#29267651) Homepage
    The depleted uranium in a M1 Tank Armor is encased in steel. It does not "coat" the tank

    The crew is not going to be exposed to the uranium unless the armor gets penetrated. If the armor is penetrated the crew has bigger problems.

    Even then, it is not a big risk it will be penetrated, Of almost 5,000 M1 tanks built, only 10-12 tanks lost due to enemy action have had their armor penetrated. Only 7 soldiers have died in combat in an M1, 4 of those drowned when their tank collapsed a bridge.

    The crew members smoking or chewing tobacco is far greater cancer risk than the tank armor.

  • by Burning1 ( 204959 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:30PM (#29268035) Homepage

    I remember reading a similar article about motorcycle helmets, which said that the incident of brain trauma was higher in helmeted riders versus helmetless. Same reason - the rigid helmet transmitted shockwave straight through the skull to the brain, where the facial structure absorbed a lot of the shock in unhelmeted riders.

    I'm a motorcycle commuter, and I've never heard that statement except when used by people attempting to justify riding without a helmet. The same basic argument is used by opponents of seat-belt laws.

    While there are rigid 'brain bucket' helmets on the market, I don't know of any that are DOT approved. As far as I know, every DOT / SNELL approved helmet built in the last 40 years is a hard shell over a thick foam lining, which is designed to prevent shock from being transmitted directly to the brain.

    The big argument against modern helmets is that they are actually designed to provide protection against unrealistically strong blows. A firmer foam will protect against heavier blows, but won't compress as much when subjected to a lighter strike. The more the helmet compresses, the slower the head inside the helmet can decelerate, reducing the forces the brain is subjected to.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:39PM (#29268121) Journal

    Uranium is an alpha emitter, outside the body it's radiation is harmless as the alpha particles have little penetration and can't effect living tissue, inside the body is the opposite, very hazardous because the radiation is completely absorbed by living tissue.

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @12:18AM (#29270009) Homepage Journal

    Do you have any choice whatsoever in the gear you are issued?

    No. In some cases you might be able to scrounge a piece of older gear, or if it was issued to you because you were in before the new gear came out you might have been able to hold onto it (sometimes they want to collect all the old stuff). But even in those cases, if the new stuff is sufficiently different in appearance, you might get in trouble for being "out of uniform". How likely that is depends on how much time your leaders have to fuss about such things, and their time or interest in such crap tends to decrease rapidly as you get closer to active combat operations.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.