Blast Waves Cause Brain Injuries Even Without Direct Impact
December 11, 2009
Traumatic brain injuries have been associated with military conflicts for a long time, especially those involving explosives. The explosive devices used in warfare since the invention of gunpowder have not only proved deadly but also extensively damaging to those not mortally wounded by the explosions.
Brain injuries generally occur when mechanical (physical) loads are placed on the brain, leading to problems in the functionality of the brain. Generally, these injuries are seen in car crashes or sporting accidents where a high velocity object is involved. However, in a combat scenario involving explosive devices, new research indicates that one of the reasons for the high instances of brain injuries in soldiers close to a blast is the force wave generated by the explosion. This force causes a squeezing of the skull or an extreme and sudden acceleration of the head, either of which can cause serious physical pressure to be placed on the brain and potentially damaging it.
In today’s conflicts, especially those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosives are regularly used to damage vehicles, slow supply caravans, and inflict serious casualties on those caught within the blast radius. The protective gear currently issued to soldiers is designed to protect against direct impacts and shrapnel. However, current body armor and helmets lack the ability to properly defend against brain injuries resulting from indirect exposure to explosions.
New research may help technicians and engineers design equipment that can better protect against the dangers of non-lethal blast waves. Two teams of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of Rochester have released a report analyzing the results of a cutting-edge computer study showing the relationship between non-impact bomb blasts and the incidents of brain injury in military personnel.
Using the latest in three dimensional modeling and simulation technology, researchers were able to study and identify the exact mechanics of brain injuries occurring in soldiers. The computer simulations showed that even explosions which were non-lethal caused the skull to flex, putting a heavy load on the brain and possibly damaging it without any direct impact on the skull. This new information means that new products will be designed to compensate and correct the flex pressure in the skull, potentially taking the danger out of non-lethal blasts near military personnel.
Suffering a traumatic brain injury at any time can be a debilitating injury. Oftentimes, those afflicted find themselves unable to work, concentrate, or perform as they had before the injury. Now that researchers have a better understanding of how and why non-lethal blasts cause brain injuries they will be able design new armor that will better protect soldiers and other military personnel.