Doctors Concerned About Possible Brain Injury From the Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice-Bucket-2Well, not really.  But it does seem ironic to me that the ALS Foundation has embraced what is essentially a blow to the head with ice cubes and water as a fund-raising activity, in order to treat a disease which may in part be related to head trauma.  A large number of football players have developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and, although the science is debatable, there may be a link between CTE and ALS.  Regardless, any form of head trauma can cause brain injury, and there is no specific magnitude of impact force to the head that is required to cause a concussion.  Ice cubes are solid and some of these challenges have been done from a balcony, such as this one with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.cory-booker-ice-bucket-challenge

I won’t pretend to be a physicist, but let’s do some calculations.  A single ice cube weighs approximately 0.01875 kg.  Assuming a fall height of 5 meters (which looks about right for this picture), and a skull deformation of maybe 2 mm on impact (assuming the skull is pretty rigid), the calculated impact force is  459.37 Newtons per ice cube.  An average ice cube tray has 24 ice cubes, but an ice bucket might contain many more cubes.  Assuming 50 ice cubes (and assuming the ice has not melted), the overall force (not counting the weight of the water) is 22968.5 Newtons.  The average estimated force of two helmeted football player heads colliding has been calculated at 1450 to 1600 pounds.  Converting pounds to Newtons, that’s at best 7117 Newtons.  So the Ice Bucket wins.  All of which convinces me that I don’t know squat about physics, and I’m sure these calculations are wrong.  But in any case, maybe the ALS foundation should have picked something else for their campaign rather than a potential cause of brain injury.  The Pillow Fight Challenge perhaps?

About mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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