OBJECTIVE: Concussive impacts in professional football were simulated in laboratory tests to determine the collision mechanics resulting in injury to the struck player and the biomechanics of the striking players, who were not concussed or neck-injured in the tackle.
METHODS: Twenty-seven helmet-to-helmet collisions were reconstructed in laboratory tests using Hybrid III dummies. The head impact velocity, direction, and kinematics matched game video. Translational and rotational head accelerations and six-axis upper neck loads and moments were used to evaluate how the striking player delivered the concussive blow. The neck injury criterion, Nij, was calculated to assess neck injury risks in the striking player.
RESULTS: The time-averaged impact force reached 6372 ± 2486 N at 7.2 milliseconds because of 46.8 ± 21.7g head acceleration and 3624 ± 1729 N neck compression force in the striking player. Fifty-seven percent of the load was contributed by neck compression. The striking players had their heads down and lined up the impact axis through their necks and torsos. This allowed momentum transfer with minimal neck bending and increased the effective mass of the striking player to 1.67 times that of the struck player at peak load. The impact caused 94.3 ± 27.5g head acceleration in the concussed players and 67.9 ± 14.5g without concussion (t = 2.06, df = 25, P = 0.025). The striking player's Nij was greater than tolerance in 9 of 27 cases by exceeding the 4000 N neck compression limit. For these cases, the average neck compression force was 6631 ± 977 N (range, 5210–8194 N). Nij was 1.25 ± 0.16 for eight cases above the tolerance Nij = 1.0.
CONCLUSION: In the NFL, striking players line up their heads, necks, and torsos to deliver maximum force to the other player in helmet-to-helmet impacts. The concussive force is from acceleration of the striking player's head and torso load through the neck. Even though neck responses exceeded tolerances, no striking player experienced neck injury or concussion. A head-up stance at impact would reduce the torso inertial load in the collision and the risk of concussion in the struck player.