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Researcher aims to build a better hockey helmet

With some star NHL players off the ice and in the headlines recently due to serious concussive head injuries, the research of Blaine Hoshizaki is also making news.

BY MAGGIE MA | APR 04 2011

Dr. Hoshizaki, director of the Neurotrauma Impact Science Lab at the University of Ottawa, and his team of researchers are working to improve helmets to protect athletes against concussion and to develop standards that will help organizations and manufacturers better evaluate and certify protective headgear.

By reconstructing injuries using models of the brain, the U of O researchers test how different impacts create different types of stress and how the brain responds to those stresses – all in a bid to better understand how injuries occur.

Dr. Hoshizaki, whose research team is one of the few in the world doing this type of work, presented some of his findings at the first Reebok-CCM Hockey Safety Summit held in Ottawa in February. He’s hoping his research, with the support of leagues and manufacturers, will steer change in the sport.

“The willingness of the leagues to share data with us will be instrumental to creating better standards, more effective educational materials and rules to decrease the risk of head injuries in sport,” he says.

When helmets were initially adopted and certified for sports, they were designed to prevent catastrophic injuries (like skull fractures and intracranial bleeding) that usually required immediate surgery or led to death. They were never designed or certified to prevent concussion, which hadn’t at the time been considered a serious injury, says Dr. Hoshizaki. “We do know now … that concussions are very serious and have short-term and long-term implications” for an individual’s health.

Equipment manufacturers build very safe helmets, particularly for hockey and football, to protect against catastrophic injury, but now they need to catch up and build ones that can withstand the types of impact that cause concussions, he says. And, not just for hockey and football, but for all sports.

Dr. Hoshizaki designed a helmet for catastrophic injury that features air-cell shock absorbers that offer three-dimensional protection against possible head trauma. The helmets were used by the 2009 U of O Gee-Gees football team, and several other university and professional sports organizations are now using the technology.

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