By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc
This week we’ll continue our exploration of head impact-sensing technology for football. The goal of these technologies is to provide an objective indicator of impact to the brain, and in so doing alert sideline medical staff to the possibility of a concussion.
Two Interesting Technologies To Detect The Severity Of A Single Impact
The first technology is the impact sensing chin strap, made by Battle Sports Science. This technology uses accelerometers inside a proprietary chin strap. The company uses a number called the Head Injury Criterion (“HIC”) to determine the severity of an impact. The HIC is used in the automotive industry to guide safety innovations in automotive design and at least from that standpoint it’s been well-tested. A value of 700 or more is the maximum allowable in the automobile, and 560 is considered acceptable. The chin strap is designed to light up a flashing LED if a value of 240 is exceeded. The advantages I see with this are the portability and good safety margin; an obvious disadvantage is that it looks at a single event and doesn’t give us data on cumulative hits.
An interesting low-tech and low-cost impact detection device was developed by a California high school student named Braeden Benedict, of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. The idea here is somewhat similar to the impact sensing chin strap but with a decidedly low-tech twist. A thin liquid filled patch is affixed to the front of the helmet and turns red when a heavy impact is sustained. This is a very nice idea given that it is low cost, making it potentially attractive for youth leagues or cash-strapped high school programs. Testing on the device continues, and this is one I’m keeping an eye on too.
Several other devices are under development, with variations on sensors in the helmet, chin strap, and mouth guard.
Steps In The Right Direction- With More Scientific Data Needed
Overall I believe each of these products as well as the ones highlighted in last week’s post is moving us in the right direction. But we need much more data on concussions and impacts. Testing on some players shows that a concussion occurs with low-level impact and in others a much higher impact is needed to concuss the brain. What makes one person more susceptible than another? What about differences in age groups, male vs. female, single impact or multiple low-level impacts.
Each of the companies is quick to point out that their products are tools used to detect dangerous head impact, but that the professional judgment of a physician or athletic trainer is needed to diagnose a concussion. What I would really like to see is that we start looking at these products in the same manner as we would for a medical device. We need more data on the types of data required to diagnose a concussion, more data on the threshold levels to sustain a concussion, and ultimately the predictive value of any device to alert the coach, player, and other sideline personnel that a player is getting close to the limit for a concussion, or that the limit is exceeded and a concussion has occurred. These are time consuming and expensive studies to perform but in my mind the “winner” of the competition in head impact detection will be the company that proactively gives us the science.