Your helmet protects your head, but what about your neck?

A new helmet would help protect your spinal cord in head-first impacts, preventing paralysis.

The head hits a flat surface while the body keeps moving, fracturing the spine.

Whether you’re on a football field, in a boxing ring or on a race car track, you wear a helmet to protect your head from concussions and other brain injuries.

But what about your neck?

A helmet under development in British Columbia answers that question with engineering that allows the head to respond in a different way when it’s impacted head-first.

The Pro-Neck-Tor, being developed by researchers in the Injury Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has an outer shell that looks like most helmets available today, connected to a rotating inner shell that hugs the head. In head-first impacts, the neck has to

The outer red shell and inner blue shell connect by guideways on the side.

stop the motion of the torso immediately after the head stops, and often, the combination of the torso mass and speed can exceed the strength of the neck, leading to a broken neck. An injury to the spinal cord can lead to permanent paralysis.

With a Pro-Neck-Tor double-shell helmet, the head is guided along the surface, minimizing the loads on the neck during impact. The helmet is still designed, as existing helmets, to protect the brain and prevent concussions, and during typical use, the inner shell remains immobile. But when the helmet hits something with enough force, the inner mechanism releases and the inside shell rotates, guiding the head as though it were hitting an angled surface rather than a flat one.

When the head moves this way, it prevents compression to the neck, and prevents fracture.

John Melvin, an injury biomechanics expert and adjunct professor at Wayne State University in Michigan, has been studying the problem since 1968 and said that the model of existing helmets may even increase the risk of neck injuries and that the Pro-Neck-Tor shows promise. He said in Technology Review:

"Just putting more padding on your head isn't going to solve the neck injury problem, and it may even make it worse. It's a tough problem, but they're taking a unique approach, and I think it has potential. It'll have to be evaluated in many, many ways to make sure it's safe--you don't want to end up causing serious brain injury while preventing a serious neck injury."

Click here to see the helmet in action.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com