Could Magnets Help the NFL's Concussion Epidemic?

By Darren Orf on at

If you were up close for the NFL at Wembley recently, not watching Dallas trounce Jacksonville from the comfort of your sofa and beer hat, you may have noticed that American football's biggest threat remains unaddressed. Sixty-nine concussions have already been reported this year and, odds would suggest, more have been added since.

But maybe science can team up with the US's National Football League to find some answers. According to Science News, ongoing research reveals that embedding magnets in helmets could help limit the amount of force felt by players when involved in head collisions. This research was revealed at the annual meeting for the Society of Neuroscience this past weekend and is participant in the NFL's Head Health Challenge.

Raymond Colello, a neurobiologist who detailed some of his work, says that manufacturers create helmets to disperse impact energy as effectively as possible, but magnets could start working on limiting damage even before a collision happens.

Completely solving concussions in the NFL is a near impossible task. Hard hits are going to happen, and those hits will have neural repercussions, but magnets could go a long way in trying to drop the amount of reported concussions in the game. The magnets themselves would be placed one-fourth of an inch apart and would produce a repelling force of 45kg. Colello details the possible benefits:

"At 48 inches, if you dropped a standard helmet and it hit a stationary object, it would create 120 g's of force. With the magnets we drop that below 100 g's."

Colello now says he's ready for field testing with dummies and helmets attached to zip lines to further investigate the working relationships between the neck, skull and brain while wearing a magnetised helmet, but he mentions that this could (theoretically) reduce the risk of concussions by up to 80 per cent. Whether that's a hopeful number of not, we won't know until the research is peer-reviewed and published, but just in September, it was reported that out of 79 deceased ex-NFL players, 76 had some form of brain disease.

Magnets in helmets won't be a magical cure even if they are found to be effective, and certainly won't be adopted by the time the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets swan back into London next October, but they could at least help protect players on and eventually off the field. [Science News]

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