Study: Head impact-measuring devices limited in ability to predict, diagnose concussions

Study: Head impact-measuring devices limited in ability to predict, diagnose concussions

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Study: Head impact-measuring devices limited in ability to predict, diagnose concussions

A new special issue of the Journal of Athletic Training is shedding more light on concussions through a series of academic studies. Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP File

While the knowledge and education around sports-related concussions grows on a daily basis, the fact remains that head injuries caused by athletics continue to be an increasingly complex issue in the medical field.

The new special issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the scientific publication of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, is shedding more light on the issue through a series of studies.

Among them is a study on the efficacy of head-impact-measurement devices. In a study conducted by members of both the NeuroTrauma Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan and the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences at Virginia Tech, researchers studied available head-impact devices and their clinical utility.

Among the conclusions were that “head-impact sensors have limited applications to concussion diagnosis but may provide sideline staff with estimates of athlete exposure and real-time data to monitor players.”

Additionally, “given that concussion risk is influenced by many factors in addition to impact biomechanics, viewing an athlete’s head-impact data may provide context for the clinician working on the sidelines, but impact sensors should not replace clinical judgment.”

In other words, whereas many devices exist to collect head-impact data (including special football helmets, special headbands for soccer and lacrosse players, mouthguards, etc.), they should not be used as a means for concussion diagnosis. They can help protect from concussion, but there are too many factors that may play into a concussion outside of the equipment itself.

“However,” the study concludes, “by monitoring impact exposure, they have promoted design interventions that reduce the number of head impacts sustained by players over a season.” The researchers also concluded that proper interpretation of reported data on head injuries across sports of all ages will continue to help studies grow. In the meantime, though, there the current head-impact-monitoring systems have limited clinical utility.

The present is brighter than the past, and the future is brighter than the present in terms of knowledge about concussions.

“No sports medicine topic is more polarizing than concussion, and today’s standard of care supersedes where we were just a decade ago,” special issue guest editor Steven Broglio, PhD, ATC, and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan, writes in the Journal. “With validated measures, more and more of the guesswork is being removed from the process. While many questions persist about more sophisticated diagnostic measures, rehabilitation and long-term effects of injury, we continue to make great progress, remain current on research and new techniques and provide the best possible care for our patients at any level of sport or activity.”

The entire special issue of the Journal of Athletic Training is available online and includes an editorial: “A Perfect Storm,” by Brian Hainline, MD, NCAA senior vice president and chief medical officer, and Richard Ellenbogen, MD, co-chair of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, concussions during sport and recreation occur as often as 3.8 million times a year, resulting in up to seven injuries per minute every day of the year in the United States. According to a NATA news release, the estimate is that 90 percent of concussed athletes recover by day seven after injury, with concussive injuries composing 8.9 percent of all high school and 5.8 percent of all college athletic injuries.

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