High-Tech Mouthpieces Take the Football Field in Brain Injury Study
Stanford University is testing mouthpieces that measure the force of hits to the head during football games and practices.
CREDIT: Norbert von der Groeben/Stanford University School of Medicine
The Stanford University football team has added a high-tech accessory to its suit-up routine, as players test out mouthpieces equipped with tiny sensors to better understand how collisions cause concussions.
The mouthpieces — donated by a Seattle-based sports injury solutions company, X2 Impact — measure the force of hits to the head during games and practices, so researchers can learn if certain positions and plays have a greater risk of traumatic brain injuries. The devices feature accelerometers and gyrometers that measure the linear and rotational force of head impacts.
"We are trying to find an inexpensive device that can be widely used to get accurate data to better understand the biomechanics of brain injuries," Dan Garza, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine and a medical doctor for the San Francisco 49ers, told TechNewsDaily.
"We don’t know the 'concussion zone' right now," Garza added. "The mouthpiece can give us information about how hard someone was hit and the location of impact, but we need to learn more about those correlations. We may be surprised by some of the results."
During the games, the team’s head trainer monitors a computer that picks up data transmitted from the devices. Using video, the researchers are also able to correlate data to specific events on the field, such as a particular play or tackle, the university said in a press release. [Read: 10 Profound Innovations Ahead]
Researchers previously tested the mouthpiece on a helmeted crash-test dummy, dropping its head over four thousand times from various angles, to learn more about collision impacts.
Although sensors have been placed in football helmets to monitor impacts in the past, the accuracy has been questioned since helmets can move on players’ heads during collisions and throw off measurements, the university said. Researchers believe the mouthpiece will provide extremely accurate data.
Football-related concussions and its longer-term consequences have been a topic of concern for years. It's prompted congressional hearings and, more recently, strict rules on managing concussions in the National Football League.
Since concussions are hard to diagnose and players often ignore their symptoms for fear of being benched, many go underreported.
"We may be treating someone for a knee injury and don’t know whether or not they have been hit elsewhere," Garza said. "We can't catch everything right now and we need to."
A survey from 2000 that polled 1,090 retired NFL players found that those who had suffered at least one concussion during their careers reported more speech difficulties, confusion and other neurologic problems than those who had not.
The researchers at Stanford — which is the only university in the country using the device to collect research data from college athletes — also plan to collect head-impact data from the school’s women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams.
"Women's lacrosse is only second to football as the most common sport where concussions occur and it hasn’t been closely studied," Garza said. "We hope these tech tests will give us a lot more information about head injuries than we have right now."