Approximately 1.6–3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur each year in the U.S. Researchers track the head motion using a variety of techniques to study the head injury biomechanics. To understand how helmets provide head protection, quantification of the relative motion between the head and the helmet is necessary. The purpose of this study was to compare helmet and head kinematics and quantify the relative motion of helmet with respect to head during experimental representations of on-field American football impact scenarios. Seven helmet-to-helmet impact configurations were simulated by propelling helmeted crash test dummies into each other. Head and helmet kinematics were measured with instrumentation and an optical motion capture system. The analysis of results, from 10 ms prior to the helmet contact to 20 ms after the loss of helmet contact, showed that the helmets translated 12–41 mm and rotated up to 37 deg with respect to the head. The peak resultant linear acceleration of the helmet was about 2–5 times higher than the head. The peak resultant angular velocity of the helmet ranged from 37% less to 71% more than the head, depending on the impact conditions. The results of this study demonstrate that the kinematics of the head and the helmet are noticeably different and that the helmet rotates significantly with respect to the head during impacts. Therefore, capturing the helmet kinematics using a video motion tracking methodology is not sufficient to study the biomechanics of the head. Head motion must be measured independently of the helmet.

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