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New Sensor Technology To Assess Athletes with Head Injuries

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 ( 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, ( 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 ( 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.

About This Blog

This medical blog focuses on relevant clinical issues and concerns for practicing emergency physicians. Our goal is to share interesting cases, clinical pearls of useful information, relevant journal articles, as well as touch on the psychosocial, legislative, and medico-legal aspects of emergency medicine. The blog encourages the exchange of information in an unbiased and open manner.

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Poll: When do you recommend athletes return to play after suffering a concussion? a. 1 week|b. 2 weeks|c. 3 weeks|d. 4 weeks|e. defer decision to their PMD or referral|

  • Robert Glatter

    Robert Glatter, MD, FAAEM, is a member of the Editorial Board of Medscape Emergency Medicine and serves as Chair of the AAEM Society Page on Medscape Emergency Medicine. Dr. Glatter also serves as a clinical reviewer and author for AAEM's Ask the Expert series. He has also been a member of the Education and ACCME Committees of AAEM since 2004. Dr. Glatter is currently Attending Physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY, where he has been practicing emergency medicine since 2002. He completed his residency in emergency medicine at Kings County Hospital/SUNY Downstate after graduating from Emory University School of Medicine.

The content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Medscape.
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