Technology puts an inevitable spin on concussion research
Monday, January 22, 2018
Technology is inescapable, and sports injuries have been with us since people first started playing games. It was inevitable that the two would come together.
It seems that advances happen nearly every week in injury detection, analysis and prevention. The latest leap takes on concussions and brings in Bluetooth capability. Will this one be a game-changer? We can't say right now, but we've consistently moved forward in the field in recent years.
Sports injuries in general, and concussions in particular, certainly are a problem in search of a solution. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center are taking the latest step forward in assessment of head injuries. They've developed a mouthguard that detects dangerous hits and transmits data via Bluetooth to be analyzed in real time, Ohio TV station WJW reports.
Known as the Intelligent Mouthguard, the mouthpiece has shown accuracy within 5 percent.
"I think we'll definitely have a prevention component,” Dr. Jay Alberts, director of the clinic, told the TV station. "If we can monitor the impact, then we may be able to pull someone out appropriately or monitor their accumulated impact over the course of a season."
The Intelligent Mouthguard detects dangerous hits and transmits data via Bluetooth to be analyzed in real time. (Image: Cleveland Clinic)
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics from 2012, more than 329,000 children 19 years old or younger were treated in emergency rooms for sports- and recreation-related injuries. And the CDC says that from 2001-12, cases involving concussions or traumatic brain injury more than doubled among that age group.
Figures from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) are just as sobering. Citing statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the association warned that instances of head injuries might be higher than reported.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported nearly 450,000 sports-related head injuries treated in ERs in 2009, an increase of 95,000 from the previous year. Digest that: The numbers increased by nearly 100,000 in only one year. The AANS noted that the report excluded categories in which 1,200 or fewer instances were reported, and that some injuries were treated outside hospitals.
Thus, measuring impact of any kind is important, particularly in light of a study recently released by the Boston University School of Medicine. That research shows that concussions are not the only source of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease triggered by head trauma, as reported by The Washington Post.
Researchers at Boston University focused on teens who suffered head injuries in their study, revealing that the repetitive brain injuries can lead to CTE. The degenerative brain disease affects those who have suffered repetitive brain trauma, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
"Our findings provide strong causal evidence linking head impact to TBI and early CTE, independent of concussion," Dr. Lee Goldstein, one of the study's authors, told The Washington Post.
CTE usually affects individuals years after the initial trauma, the Concussion Legacy Foundation states, and victimizes athletes and military veterans as well as others who suffer repeated brain injury. The foundation attributes impulse control, aggression, paranoia and depression to the disease.
The mouthguard that originated at the Cleveland Clinic is not the only technology being used in the fight against head injuries. A sensor from the Office of Naval Research's Warfighter Performance Department can be placed in soldiers' helmets can determine the severity of a blast, providing data to medics, who can determine whether the victim needs to be treated immediately, according to a report last year in Quartz.
The field of sports technology moves from the head to the neck. The Q-Collar underwent testing in the U.S. and Canada, according to SportTechie. The website reported that the collar can increase blood flow to the head by pressing on the jugular vein, preventing the brain from moving within the skull. The research was inspired by discussion at an Army research lab about woodpeckers and their lack of head injuries, SportTechie stated.
Other research relates to improved helmets, NBC News reported. That can range from more protection inserted into headgear to sideline evaluation involving apps and mobile devices. The research reaches beyond sports, with CBS News reporting that 65 percent of military veterans in a recent study were shown to have the same type of CTE that has appeared in the brains of deceased NFL players.
One of the more intriguing recent research projects is a helmet that attaches to shoulder pads in an attempt to limit head movement by afflicted football players. Texas Tech student Berto Garcia is developing that technology, with the help of grants and scholarships from the likes of the Office of Naval Research, the New York Daily News reported. Garcia used his experience as a high school football player that suffered a concussion to inspire him in his work.
There already is a significant body of work to prevent head injuries in sports and beyond. Now that technology is heavily involved in the game, we expect progress to be made continually and consistently.
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