New wearable technology, such as electronic mouth guards, being trialled in AFL (Australian Football League) and other sports will provide data for concussion researchers to better understand the minute causes of concussion.
The comprehensive data about speed and acceleration of players upon impact will be collected for use in long-term studies.
The electronic technology isn’t now able help diagnose concussions, but it is yielding data essential for understanding underlying causes of impacts to the head.
This data could, in turn, inform the science about concussions to help refine concussion regulations and training practises.
“At this stage, all we know is the aftermath of the concussion,” says Alan Pearce, a neuroscientist and concussion researcher at La Trobe University, Melbourne.
“What we’re trying to do is find out what is happening in our respective environments.
“So, in particular with concussion, what are these sports generating in terms of impacts to the brain?
“Because we see the end result and we don’t really understand what is contributing, potentially, to that end result.”
Electronic sensors such as the Nexus A9 and Prevent Biometrics mouth guards, and PROTXX behind-ear sensors use accelerometry – a measurement of acceleration and deceleration – to understand the nature and force of impacts in AFL and other sports.
“What we had [so far] found out from the accelerometry is that rotational impacts create more likelihood of a concussion than linear impact,” says Pearce.
“So, if someone comes in from the side and you see their head rapidly turn left or right during the impact, then they’re more likely to get a concussion.”
The data will be collected from both professional clubs and amateur clubs across a season to get a broader representation of concussions, but further studies will be necessary to understand impacts to women.
Previously, only small-scale studies mainly focussed on men have been conducted.
The Royal Institution of Australia has an Education resource based on this article. You can access it here.
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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