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Name: Bailey
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: FL
Country: USA
Date: N/A 

Does the amount of padding in a football helmet reduce impact for head on collisions?


A guess. Probably yes, but the design of helmets and other protective sports equipment is a complicated engineering problem, so the simple answer is probably only partially true, and does not take into account many other factors (e.g. volume, damping (to minimize whiplash), motion upon impact). The list is long, and the problem difficult.

Vince Calder

Hi Bailey,

Yes, more and thicker padding will help reduce impact to the head. But the type of padding is very important. If it is too soft, the head will just squash it in an impact and bash into the inside if the helmet's hard shell. If it is too hard, then it will not cushion the impact enough. Regards,

Bob Wilson

In general, yes, the padding in a football helmet reduces "impact." The goal of any helmet is twofold. 1) A helmet is a hard shell that prevents the collision with a sharp object from injuring or penetrating the head and, 2) reduce the intensity of the impact, which can harm the brain, by spreading it over a longer time period by having the cushioning material deflect on impact. The idea is that it is more comfortable to fall onto an air mattress that is laying on the floor than to fall on the hard floor itself.

The nature of the padding influences how well a helmet reduces the forces experienced by a player's head. The padding is often crushable and so directly absorbs some of the energy of impact which might go to the head. The stiffness of the padding is important. If the padding is too soft then the padding easily crushes and is squeezed on impact and doesn't help much - the player's head hits the inside of the hard helmet shell and gets a large impact. If the padding is too hard then the padding does not deflect or absorb any energy at all, and the player's head also gets a large impact. The best stiffness is that which crushes the optimal amount for the kind of collision that is experienced. Motorcycle helmets have very stiff padding because the goal is to reduce impact for very severe accidents. The thickness of padding is important - if the padding is very thin then it is like it is not there at all, and the player receives an impact as if they were wearing only the hard shell itself. Very thick would be better but then the helmet size would be huge.

Robert A. Erck

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