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Translating Research to Reduce Concussion Risk

Since 2011, Virginia Tech researchers have been providing unbiased helmet ratings that allow consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing helmets.  The helmet ratings are the culmination of over 10 years of research on head impacts in sports and identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk.  This work is done as part of Virginia Tech’s service mission and is 100% independent of any funding or influence from helmet manufacturers.

Why rate helmets? 

Although all helmets currently being sold satisfy minimum safety requirements specified by standards organizations, not all helmets are created equal.  Two helmets that pass the same standard may offer different levels of impact protection.  Prior to the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings, consumers had no way of knowing which helmets were better than others.  Given that helmets are a safety product, this information should be available to consumers. 

What do the helmet ratings mean? 

Simply stated, the helmet ratings identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk.  More stars equate to better protection, with 5 stars representing the best available helmets.  We encourage athletes to get out of lowly rated helmets and into 4 and 5 star helmets.  Ratings are currently available for football and hockey helmets. 

How are ratings determined for helmets? 

Through a series of impact tests, helmets are evaluated using 2 fundamental concepts: 1) each test is weighted based on how frequently players experience them and 2) helmets that lower head acceleration reduce concussion risk.  The impact conditions and weightings are sport-specific, and inclusive of the broad range of head impacts that athletes are likely to experience.  These methods have been published as peer-reviewed articles in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering and are free to download for football and hockey.

Will 5 star helmets prevent me from sustaining concussions?

No helmet is concussion-proof.  Any athlete can sustain a head injury, even with the very best head protection.  The helmet ratings identify the helmets that best reduce your chances of sustaining a concussion.  With that stated, helmets are only one piece of the equation to minimizing concussion risk.  Rule changes and coaching proper technique can result in fewer high-risk head impacts, and are perhaps most important.  Having the best available head protection for the remaining head impacts further reduces risk.  Check out our studies on how rule changes can reduce high-risk head impacts in football.

Ten-Year Plan

Outlining the future of STAR ratings in multiple categories.
view the plan (PDF)

Hockey STAR: A Methodology for Assessing the Biomechanical Performance of Hockey Helmets

Recent News

ABC 8 News: How safe is your kid’s hockey helmet?

Kerri O'Brien interviews Stefan Duma on the outlook for youth hockey.


CBS News: High School Student Deaths Raise Helmet Concerns

Video piece on the concussions in high school players.

News archive

Note: Any player in any sport can sustain a head injury with even the very best head protection.  This analysis is based on data trends and probabilities, and therefore a specific person’s risk may vary.  This variation is likely dominated by genetic differences, health history, and impact factors such as muscle activation.