New helmet significantly reduces forces to neck during head-first impact
By Maria DiDanieli
University of British Columbia researchers have invented a sports helmet that
reduces direct impact to the neck by up to 56 per cent, according to preliminary
Dubbed Pro-Neck-TorTM, the patent-pending technology features a movable inner
shell that guides the head to tilt slightly forward or backward in a head-on
impact, thus allowing dissipation of direct loads to the cervical spine. The
inner shell mechanism is deployed only when the wearer lands head-first with a
certain speed and angle at impact. It works otherwise like existing sports
For an animation of how the helmet works, visit www.pronecktor.com
"Existing helmets are not designed to protect the
neck and the cervical region of the spine, which happens to be the weakest area,"
says co-inventor Peter Cripton, a Mechanical Engineering assistant professor in
the Faculty of Applied Science.
"Pro-Neck-Tor is designed to address
potentially debilitating injuries to the neck and spine that often accompany
head-first impacts," says Cripton, who is also director of the UBC Injury
Biomechanics Laboratory, with facilities at the Vancouver Coastal Health
A head-first impact in sports such as hockey,
football, mountain-biking and snowboarding could load the neck with as much
force as the weight of five or more people. This force is comparable to that
which can be produced in a car accident, such impact could result in spinal cord
injury and permanent paralysis.
Approximately 12,000 people suffer
spinal cord injuries annually in the U.S., with 10 per cent of these injuries
occurring in activities that make use of a helmet.
One thousand people suffer
spinal cord injuries annually in Canada.
With help from surgeons from
the UBC Dept. of Orthopedics' Spine Surgery Division at Vancouver General
Hospital, and researchers from the Division of Orthopedic Engineering Research
and the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), Cripton and
PhD candidate and co-inventor Tim Nelson have conducted preliminary testing
using a mechanical head and neck model.
Results show the Pro-Neck-Tor
can reduce both torques and forces to the neck.
The forces were reduced by 27 to
56 per cent and torques 19 to 72 per cent, depending on the angle of the
Prof. Peter Cripton is also an associate faculty member in the
Dept. of Orthopedics in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC. The faculty provides
innovative programs in the health and life sciences, teaching students at the
undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels, and generates more than $200
million in research funding each year.
VCH Research Institute is the
research body of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. In academic partnership
with UBC, the institute advances health research and innovation across B.C.,
Canada, and beyond. www.vchri.ca.