Since the 2015 release of the eye-opening movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, concussions have become a hot topic in the sports medicine and athletic training world, especially in the United States. More and more evidence has been presented to show the long term effects of concussions, including the reports on retired NFL players beginning to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Concussions are classified as a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by an impact to the head. It’s estimated that there are between 1.7 and 3 million sports related concussion each year, and 300,000 of those are from playing football. 50% of concussions go unreported or undetected, which is concerning as TBI’s have the potential to cause long-term brain damage if left untreated. This lack of detection is inherently due to the subjective methods of reporting and evaluating head injuries.
Scientists are developing a better understanding of concussions, allowing them to figure out new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat these head injuries. Oftentimes, these solutions are incredibly innovative pieces of technology.
So what are some of the latest innovations in concussion prevention and diagnosis? We’ve combed the web and found 6 product categories that are undergoing a serious upgrade to reduce and prevent concussions. While we don’t officially endorse any, and recommend you always do your research, we want to share what we’ve found the most interesting!
Sports technology companies are now developing sensor-equipped mouthguards that can measure different aspects of impacts to the head. Your teeth are the hardest part of the body, which makes sensor-mouthguards a reliable way to measure the force of impact, the direction the blow came from, and the way the skull moved. These mouthguards are often associated with an app that sends a notification to the coach or trainer once a player has experienced a substantial blow that goes over the preset safety threshold. This allows the training team to take the necessary steps for concussion treatment as they have a complete overview of the cause and root of the issue. The data gathered by these mouthguards can prove to be very beneficial for athletic trainers to help them discover possible concussions that would otherwise be missed and to ensure athletes get the proper treatment.
2. Football Helmets and Caps
Regular football helmets were designed to protect the head from skull fractures, and while they do a good job at that, they aren’t built to prevent concussions; until now! Some forward-thinking companies have designed helmet technology that can better absorb the shock of an impact and reduce the blow before it reaches the head. How are they able to do this? One way is with a soft-shell cover that is placed on top of a regular helmet, which according to one company can take off about 33% of the force of a hit. This substantial difference can prove to be the difference between athletes sustaining a concussion or simply a strong hit. As technology continues to advance, other companies are now designing helmets with a layer of columns that are made to absorb the force of the impact. It’s still early, but these kinds of helmets may become the norm in in the future if the results prove they work the way they claim.
3. Tackling Dummies
Robots may be taking over… well at least at NFL training camps. Robot tackling dummies are being used to practice safer tackling and reduce the amount of contact players receive at practice. These dummies first saw light at Dartmouth College with football coach, Buddy Teevens who had originally banned tackling during practice to help prevent concussions. Teevens faced pushback on this decision, with some coaches arguing that not practicing proper tackling techniques would limit players’ skills. Nonetheless, these dummies provide an alternate was for football teams to continue to tackle in practice without player-to-player contact. Talk about an interesting use of technology!
4. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) could be another answer to concussion diagnosis. Companies are beginning to create concussion assessments tests with VR headsets. For example, Dr. Michael Grey, who worked on a trial at the University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia, says that virtual reality could detect subtle changes in athletes. The VR he has been testing can establish if a player is experiencing a concussion by testing their balance while following instructions through the VR headset. You may be asking yourself how is that possible - well the headset is intuitive enough to detect changes that wouldn’t normally show up in other concussion diagnosis tests.
Other VR technology is being used to measure eye tracking movement, because a concussion causes impairments between a person’s brain and their eyes. After a person has experienced an impact to the head, they put on the VR headset and follow a dot as it moves around a circular path. The less the athlete is able to accurately follow the dot, the more likely they are concussed. The best part about these devices are that they can be done right on the sidelines as it only takes a couple of minutes, which prevents athletes from continuing to play after getting a serious blow to the head.
5. Balance Metrics
Evaluating a person's balance is another way to diagnose a concussion, and now there are devices designed to do just that! These monitor the way a person walks by measuring their balance and comparing it to a baseline measurement. Devices that can measure balance would not only help with the diagnosis of a concussion, but could even determine when an athlete is ready to get back to play.
6. Synthetic Turf Field
Addressing head safety from a field-surface perspective could be a huge game changer in concussion prevention. Numerous companies now offer shock pads for synthetic turf- an underlayment ranging in thickness that is placed between the turf and stone based. A study conducted by the University of Virginia for the NFL found that 23% of head injuries were primarily due to the playing surface, and 24% were partly due to it. It has become increasingly important to create safer playing fields and these shock absorbing pads may be extremely beneficial to athletes everywhere as they will actively reduce the force of the impact with the ground and thereby result in less severe injuries.
This is all very exciting news for the sports world! A lot of these products are still in testing and won’t be available to the general public for many years, but it’s refreshing to see the amount of effort and work that is going on behind reducing athletes’ risk of injuries. At Presagia Sports, we include concussion assessment in our electronic health record software, with the SCAT3 test. Learn more about Presagia Sports by visiting our website.
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