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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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  • Flaw (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Phoenixlol ( 1549649 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:16PM (#29265687)
    This is considered a flaw in design? I was unaware that these helmets were designed to protect against shockwaves as oppoesed to simply projectiles. "Military Helmet Design Contributes To Brain Damage" makes it sound like the helmet itself is inflicting brain damage, no?
  • Great Headline. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Caue ( 909322 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:21PM (#29265787)
    Maybe it should have been "explosions cause brain damage and the helmet is not very efficient against those" or "don't wear a military helmet and use TNT"

    I tought helmets were designed to protect from debri and flying objects caused by explosions, not the shockwave from 2 pounds of C-4 lying around.

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:23PM (#29265811) Homepage

    from the earlier story...

    Stick it in the lining.

  • by sacremon ( 244448 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:28PM (#29265895)

    There was just an article earlier today (Orange Goo []) about a material that helps absorb shock, so why not line the inside of the helmets with the stuff?

  • Re:Misleading Title? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avalain ( 1321959 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:30PM (#29265923)
    The part that they perhaps should have mentioned is that in the TFA they compared the new helmets with the helmets they stopped using in 2003. They found that there is a gap in the new helmet which makes it handle bullets better than the old one, but it seems to handle explosions worse.

    Basically, it's not that the helmet is causing brain damage. It's that the helmet is not protected the soldier from brain damage as well as the older helmet did.
  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:33PM (#29265969) Journal

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

  • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:35PM (#29266001) Homepage

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

    Ants don't build a better anthill after you kick it over, they just build the same old design as before.

    Wrong race. Our race tends to come up with new and innovative ways of killing each other so that we can avoid being killed. And, if you want to stick to structures, Munich is a really interesting place to visit. They pretty much did rebuild the same human ant-hills after they got bombed to the ground. My understanding is that they built it about as close to the original lay-out as practical. But, even in that single very unusual example, they at least had the sense to completely revamp the infrastructure when they were putting it back together.

    If you're saying something too clever for me and it went over my head, I apologize for the ramble.

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:39PM (#29266091)

    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.

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

    I think they've redesigned the helmets since then.

  • by iamhigh ( 1252742 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:39PM (#29266095)

    It's nearly impossible to knock someone our bare handed with a blow to the temple

    While perhaps this is true for the temple (and only the temple), I have seen way to many UFC fights to agree with the general idea of this statement. Catch the jaw just right with a solid blow and just about anyone will go down.

    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.

  • Yes - it IS flawed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:47PM (#29266211) Journal

    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. This kind of thing is mentioned everywhere.

    Have you ever worn a bike helmet that was 3 sizes too large? How effective was it? Heres an experiment, place a ball on the ground and smack it with your hand. Notice how much it bounces, moves, etc etc. Now take that ball and hold it 2 feet off the ground. Now hit it, and see how much more it bounces.

    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.

  • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 1195047 ) <philip DOT paradis AT palegray DOT net> on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:58PM (#29266357) Homepage Journal
    Here's the hitch: Service personnel are screened rather thoroughly for any potentially disqualifying medically significant incidents prior to being enlisted/commissioned. Almost any prior head trauma for which medical attention was sought would be a disqualifying factor, unless medical review showed (with a very high degree of certainty) no lasting impairment. As a result, while a few might slip through the cracks here and there, you're not going to find a significant number of personnel entering the service with prior brain damage. You might be surprised what sort of prior medical issues can disqualify someone from military service.
  • by tilandal ( 1004811 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:10PM (#29266529)

    Easy, just don't count the people who die from trauma to the head while riding without a helmet.

  • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gilmoure ( 18428 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:21PM (#29266691) Journal

    I was underweight for my height (5'10" / 115 lbs). After spending 6 months trying to gain weight, was able to get a waver and go in to basic. 4 years later, had managed to gain 12 lbs. Out on the flight line, they called me Stickman. I was able to get in through small access holes (KC-135's) and fix stuff that would have taken an extra hour of work to remove larger pieces of skin. Got a decent amount of free booze for helping speed up repairs.

  • Re:In other news... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by karlwilson ( 1124799 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:25PM (#29266755)
    Completely Prevent? Your brain is either damaged or it isn't. There really isn't an inbetween there.
  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:30PM (#29266811)

    When I wore the Army helmets in basic training, I noticed this design flaw. Basically, there's no padding or shock absorbing foam in the helmet. (there's a redesigned helmet that is in use now that has a little bit of padding but not like a bike helmet). Sometimes, soldiers would playfully rifle butt each other in the head. I noticed whenever this happened to me that the rigid helmet would let most of the force of the blow right through, and it would make a loud ringing sound. Evidently, that's pretty bad when an IED goes off.

    Of course, the ultimate solution is to put infantry drones in the blast zone of IED, not human beings. Unfortunately for all the soldiers who have died, the tech won't be ready for another 20-30 years.

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

    by tonywong ( 96839 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:39PM (#29266925) Homepage
    The should use orange goo.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:50PM (#29267053)

    When I wore the Army helmets in basic training, I noticed this design flaw. Basically, there's no padding or shock absorbing foam in the helmet.

    Actually, there is in the current design (perhaps you used the previous PASGT in Basic Training), which why TFA notes that it almsot completely eliminates the problem resulting from the "underwash" effect that TFS is referring to. Unfortunately, TFA finds that the padded-suspension design the newer helmet design uses still increases brain injury in blasts, by tightly coupling movement and deformation of the helmet to the skull.

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

    by ( 1195047 ) <philip DOT paradis AT palegray DOT net> on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:00PM (#29267189) Homepage Journal
    You wouldn't have qualified for submarine duty. I'm surprised you got cleared for Army service, unless (as I stated previously) there was no lasting impairment from the original injury. I assure you, an Army medical officer did review your medical history thoroughly prior to your acceptance into the service. The clearance part really doesn't have a lot to do with it, as about 99% of all personnel wearing a uniform are required to maintain at least a Secret clearance. As you're no doubt aware, higher clearances are reviewed with increased scrutiny.

    That said, I do thank you for your service, and I'm glad your didn't have lasting impairment from a prior injury that would have made service impossible for you. Far too many people would probably have attempted to skate out of doing their duty in a time of war by claiming unsuitability for service. The fact that you took your oath means something.
  • by Radtastic ( 671622 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:06PM (#29267809)

    I don't like boxing because it's too brutal. Our brains just weren't meant to be pummeled like that

    Not to get pedantic, but I don't think our brains were designed to be pummeled UFC-style either.

  • by minorproblem ( 891991 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:59PM (#29268245)
    I can completly agree that helmets help, the one time that i came off my bike i was sideswiped by a car. I remember sliding along the road after smacking my head really hard thinking "gee this helmet works well". Am really glad i was wearing leathers/kevlar and a helmet. Didn't have a scratch on me after coming off at 80km\h. Just had a corked thigh and a few small burns from the heat of the kevlar rubbing on the road. Jumped up after, took off my helmet and chased my bike down the road thinking oh god my baby!!
  • You know, observational studies are still scientific. There are plenty of hypotheses that can be tested without randomized controlled trials.

    Not really. Observational studies are generally shodily researched, poorly implemented, have less than 50 data points and no controls, and are sloshed around in a statistical package until the numbers come out. They're generally done by people who have come to a conclusion and now need to dress it up with a "scientific study".

    Which isn't to say that a good observational trial cannot take place. They just don't usually take place nowadays.

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

    And sometimes it is so hard some people just give up and fudge everything until they get what they want. The ideal test methodology is an honest to goodness experiment. You're either doing experiments, or you're gassing.

    Mythbusters can and do make a better effort at the scientific method than most modern, think tank funded studies. They put ideas to the test. Most studies simply data mine.

  • Without gloves you'd break your hands if you stood there punching at somebody's head.

    "Head" covers a variety of targets. Punching the forehead? Snap go your knuckles. But punching to the chin, nose, jaw, or ear? With a properly trained and conditioned fist, you can strike to parts of the head without breaking your hand.

    It takes a long time to train a fist, though -- at least three years, according to a common karate maxim -- and I still recommend a palm-heel, hammer fist, or knife hand strike. Or an elbow strike, for close-in work.

  • by ajlisows ( 768780 ) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:48PM (#29269761)

    This may be a really stupid fact...I'm almost certain that it is a really stupid question. I've never served in the military and have no idea. Do you have any choice whatsoever in the gear you are issued? If you felt safer with the old Kevlar helmet could you ask for that type instead or did they pretty much toss all of them in the garbage?

    I hate to even compare it to the military, but in the NFL you can opt to get one of the new "Anti-Concussion" helmets but the rules do not require you to get one as some players feel there are other drawbacks to the "Safer" model and the evidence of the safety of the new helmet is somewhat questionable. I know in most cases you do not get a heck of a lot of choices in the military but I would think that being asked to wear something shaking around on your head would definitely impair a person's abilities on the field of combat.

  • by eggnoglatte ( 1047660 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @01:16AM (#29270371)

    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.

    Well, that is what speed ratings are for. If you you go offroading, where you are likely to have a reasonable number of smaller falls, you should buy a soft padding helmet, and not a hard one that was designed to keep you alive during a 200 MPH crash on track day. The problem is, a lot of people think a higher speed rating is better, no matter what. That simply ain't so.

    Agree with the rest of your post, though.

  • by Burning1 ( 204959 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:04AM (#29270643) Homepage

    I don't do much dirt riding, so I cannot comment on the construction of dirt helmets.

    Street helmets are not marked for any specific speed rating. Generally, a helmet is either stamped that it meets DOT specifications, or it's been certified by the SNELL Memorial Foundation. [] The SNELL foundation pushes the most stringent impact requirements, and are the generally target of criticisms that helmets are being engineered for unrealistic impacts.

    For consumers, it's difficult to impossible to pick a helmet based on it's impact protection. Consumers are lead to believe that $900 helmets from Shoei and Arai* provide significantly better protection than an inexpensive $200 Scorpion brand helmet.

    Keep in mind also that a helmet generally experiences it's harshest blows in street conditions. On the race track, there is a great deal of runoff; once the rider hits the ground, his head is subjected to rash and potentially rolling, but is not likely to hit a solid object. Street riders face a greater risk of hitting a tree, curb, or car head-first than a racer does.

    Racing typically has a higher injury rate and a lower fatality rate than street riding.

    * This should not be taken as a criticism of Shoei and Arai. I own a Shoei RF1000 helmet that retailed for $500. The price is justified by the comfort, build quality, and Shoei's excellent customer service. I did not buy the helmet expecting 150% better protection than an inexpensive helmet.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson