Head Impact Sensors May Not Be As Useful As Advertised


As the threat of concussions and the associated long-term brain risks or repeated head trauma looming, many sports organizations are turning to new advanced technology in an attempt to keep their athletes safe.

Most recently, this has included the growing use of impact measurement systems that claim to alert staff on the sidelines when a player is hit hard enough to possibly concussed.

These small sensors, which are able to be placed into headbands or caps worn under a helmet, have become a popular tool for teams and leagues that are taking proactive steps to prioritize player safety.

The only problem is these sensors may not be as accurate or effective as previously suggested.

A new study published in the Journal of Athletic Training suggests head-impact-measurement devices “have limited application to concussion diagnosis.” The report indicates these devices are not reliable enough to conclusively diagnose concussions on their own, but they may have supplemental applications to provide better context around a potential injury.

“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.”

Supporters and manufacturers of the devices have often made claims that these devices were sensitive enough to pick up on high-impact hits and notify staff when a player needs to be assessed. Unfortunately, identifying concussions isn’t as easy as defining a threshold for head impacts.

While high-impact collisions may be more likely to cause a concussion, brain injuries can also be caused by relatively light bumps on the head. In other cases, a player may take a massive hit and walk away perfect fine.

Because of this, these devices shouldn’t be seen as a primary tool for diagnosing concussions say the researchers. They may, however, be used to provide health professionals with background information when a play is being assessed for a potential brain injury. The report also says the devices may be helping prevent concussions by keeping athletes aware of how many impacts they have sustained.

As the team concludes, “by monitoring impact exposure, they have promoted design interventions that reduce the number of head impacts sustained by players over a season.”

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