Guardian Caps Can Help Reduce Head Impacts
Football teams in the NFL are looking to reduce the harmful side effects of head impacts by using a soft-shelled helmet cover called the Guardian Cap. The league partnered with the NFLPA to test the helmet caps. Biomechanics Consulting and Research is testing the product under the supervision of Dr. Ann Bailey Good, a mechanical engineer for Biocore. The study looked at helmet impacts with and without the cap in simulated NFL impacts. The same type of machine used for NFL and NFLPA performance evaluations of bare helmets was used (linear impactor machine). Two impact velocities and three different impact locations (front, side, and upper) were used to mimic real world NFL impacts. They found that helmets with the Guardian Cap had a nine percent reduction versus a regular bare helmet. When a different product created by Protech was tested, the average reduction was five percent.
The Guardian Cap has been found to be very effective for nonprofessional applications. Players in high school were able to see a reduction of head impacts (up to 33 percent) while using the cap. The Jacksonville Jaguars tested the device in 2020, and the NFL approved the caps for offensive and defensive linemen, who have more head impacts during practices in the week than in regular games. It is not advertised as a concussion preventing device, but there is a chance that these players can see a reduction in concussions. Football players were allowed by the NFLPA to voluntarily use the products in practice, but they were not required since the NFLPA and the NFLPA would both have to approve the devices.
The Guardian Cap won the NFL HeadHealthTECH Challenge, which is a competition to promote development of protective football equipment. After winning, the NFL has been extensively testing the product.
It will probably take time for the caps to be used in games. One issue with them is the caps do not bounce off each other as easily as bare helmets do, making it much easier to sustain a neck injury. It is not known how many concussions the caps can prevent, but the caps are still beneficial and greatly help players because they reduce acceleration, one major factor in sustaining brain injuries. Concussions are caused by many factors, not just acceleration, so it is hard to determine if the caps will reduce concussions in the sport.
The caps still need to be tested before they are used effectively in games. Researchers use an adjustable table and pneumatic ram to test forces on helmets from many different angles. Some players also wear a mouthguard to provide impact data that cannot be recreated in a lab. The great news is that players are not complaining about the caps. There were initial complaints about the cap falling off and looking strange, but this no longer happens. It will take years to determine if the Guardian Caps are effective enough to be used in a game, but for now, players using them can have peace of mind knowing they are protecting their heads, even if it is only by a small amount.
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