Robert Glatter, MD, Emergency Medicine, 08:51PM Jul 21, 2013
Athletes engaging in contact sports such as football, hockey as well as soccer and basketball and boxing may have a tool to alert trainers and physicians to subtle blows to the head which place athetes at risk for concussions.
With NFL Football camps ready to open this week, there will be a debut of so-called “wearable” sensor technology from a number of companies to capture and record the number as well as severity of “hits” that players take throughout the season.
Armed with a vast array of sensor technology to capture acceleration forces, the aim will be to determine the severity of the impacts, apart from those assessed by trainers and team physicians.
The goal will be to alert staff to the severity of the impacts -- which may or may not mandate removal from play. These devices obviously cannot be used to determine if a player has had a concussion in the formal sense, but may help to provide raw data about the severity of impacts. The numeric thresholds for defining the severity of impact may be useful for assessing head injuries, but may certainly not be the same for different individuals experiencing the same impact. Clinical judgment should still remain the cornerstone for evaluation for concussions.
MC10 (www.mc10inc.com) and Reebok have developed a wearable and washable beanie called Checklight which NFL players will be wearing this season. Data from the beanie is fed into an electronic microprocessor which registers yellow for a moderate hit to the head, and red for a more severe impact.
Another company, X2 Biosystems, (www.x2biosystems.com) markets a wearable sensor patch placed behind the ear. Data can be retrieved wirelessly and contributes to an ongoing research database for head trauma which is currently under development. X2 biosystems has also signed an agreement with the NFL to perform baseline testing of players followed by testing after sustained head trauma throughout the season
Brain Sentry (www.brainsentry.com) has also developed proprietary technology to determine the severity of such head impacts. It uses a special sensor affixed to the back of the helmet which helps to record severity of impact, flashing red for severe impacts, and yellow for moderate impacts.
The bottom line is that assessing whether a player has suffered a concussion is a clinical diagnosis. While sensors may help to provide the severity of impact, nothing can replace the skilled judgment of a medical provider in providing a full clinical assessment. Based upon new concussion guidelines issued by the American Academy of Neurology in March of 2013, an athlete should be removed from play if there is any suspicion for a concussion.