We know that high-impact sports athletes are at a high risk for brain injury, but there has never been much of an objective way to identify the actual risk these players face, especially from repeated so called “sub-concussive” hits. Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has changed this with a metric referred to as the Risk Weighted Cumulative Exposure (RWE).
RWE measures the frequency and magnitude of all impacts a player incurs over a football season and calculated the player’s risk level of concussion or traumatic brain injury. According to Health 24, the metric measures the cumulative risk of brain injury due to linear and rotational acceleration separated, as well as calculating the combined probability of brain injury associated with both.
Joel Stitzel, PhD, senior author of the study and chair of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist said, “this metric gives us a way to look at a large number of players the the hit’s they’ve incurred while playing football. We know that young players are constantly experiencing low-level hits that don’t cause visible injury, but there hasn’t been a good way to measure the associated risk of concussion.”
It may be easy to identify a risky hit if a player loses their helmet in the process of the events or stands up looking woozy and confused, but these smaller hits that culminate in brain injury are much more tricky, and these injuries are still difficult to pin down even with the weighted metric. We still know very little about sub-concussive hits and brain injury, but numerous studies have shown the correlation between high numbers of low-level impacts and concussion.
While the metric may be useful in preventing brain injury to young athletes, its most important contributions may be the information gathered that contribute to the biomechanical basis for brain injury related to sports and concussion in general.