Blast-related mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) has been called the ‘signature injury’ of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the significantly high prevalence in veterans previously deployed in these regions1,2. Over 300,000 United States (US) Armed Forces veterans have sustained a brain injury since 20031,2.

What can be done to help military men and women from receiving such a high number of concussions?

Preventative measures involving new helmets to help decrease concussions in the military have begun4. Helmets that military men and women wear may help to provide some protection. New helmet design has been implemented and is still being worked on, including the use of helmets that now have sensors4. The hope is that these will help provide better protection.

No helmet at present can protect against the large array of threats that our service men and women are up against . There are new helmets in the works one such helmet, the US Naval Research Laboratory and Allen- Vanguard developed the Environmental Helmet Sensor (EHS) has a sensor around the occipital area that states it can measure and record up to 500 concussive events with a 7 month battery life3,4. The sensors also report that it can measure acceleration up to 4000g in three directions, ambient temperature and peak pressure of up to 17 atmospheres3,4. Furthermore, they claim the sensors can distinguish between blast and blunt trauma events4.

The next helmet developed by BAE Systems is smaller Headborne Energy Analysis & Diagnostic System (HEADS) and fits inside the crown of a helmet6. They report that it is capable of recording acceleration in three axes and atmospheric pressure changes; it can also download data to a PC via a USB port and uses commercial off the shelf rechargeable batteries4,7.

More recently in 2010 BAE Systems developed a HEADS Generation II device4,8. This they reported was similar in size but weighed two-thirds less than the original of Generation I and that it could record impact location, magnitude, duration, blast pressure, angular and linear accelerations as well as the exact times of single or even multiple blast events4,8.

This BAE System Generation II also claims that if one is involved in a traumatic event causing a impact to the head and body such as a blast or whiplash the device inside the helmet activates an LED light that notifies the wearer they may have suffered a significant event that warrants medical assessment4,9. Data about trauma events can be then be transmitted by wireless or via a USB port4,9.

Finding the right helmet to fit every need is challenging, but very important as it is very difficult to find a balance between a protective helmet and still providing comfort to the wearer. If the helmet is too heavy due to increased ballistics protection it is less likely to be worn due to discomfort. The heaviness of a helmet is also hard on the neck as well4. The wearer of the helmet needs a strong neck in order to support added weight of the helmet otherwise a whiplash leading to concussion can occur as well5.

The data is limited, but a study of professional rugby players found that neck injuries did go down from one season to the next after the team participated in a 26 week neck training program5.
The rugby team focused mainly on isometric exercise which helps the neck’s ability to produce stiffness and stop motion that will help reduce the acceleration injury5.

References:

  1. https://jmvh.org/article/concussion-within-the-military/ Opens in new window
  2. Stroke & Neurology Research Group, Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, Liverpool, NSW
  3. Simmonds K, Bagchi A, Leung A et al. Sensor Systems for Measuring Helmet-Head-Brain Response to Blast. Naval Research Laboratory Review 2009:76-86.
  4. Wallace, D. et al. Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health Vol 20 Review Article Number 1. January 2012 pp 10-17.
  5. Naish et al. J Sports Science Medicine. 2013 Sep; 12(3): 542–550.
  6. News Release: BAE Systems delivers new brain injury analysis technology to US Army 2008 [cited 2011 26 April]: Available from: http://www.baesystems.com/Newsroom/NewsReleases/2008/autoGen_10837192848.html Opens in new window.
  7. Headborne Energy Analysis & Diagnostic System. BAE Systems. Phoenix, Arizona, 2009.
  8. News Release: BAE Systems Unveils Its Heads Generation II Helmet Sensor 2010: Available from: http://www.baesystems.com/Newsroom/NewsReleases/2010/autoGen_110618173419.html Opens in new window.
  9. HEADS – Generation II Headborne Energy Analysis & Diagnostic System. BAE Systems. Phoenix, Arizona, 2010