Many Benefits of Monitoring Head Impacts

From a biomechanical lens, the importance of head impact monitoring in sports is clear. The better we can monitor impacts to athletes’ heads with precision and accuracy, the better we can understand traumatic brain injury and mild traumatic brain injury (i.e. concussions) and protect long-term brain health. Between the often immediate concussion symptoms caused by a major impact and the link between these impacts and long-term neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the monitoring of head impacts in sports has the potential to inform acute and chronic medical conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. As researchers across the world continue to uncover the connections between head impacts and negative brain health, the powerful technology tools they use to do so will continue to evolve and take center stage in monitoring head impacts and brain health. Last time, we wrote about how instrumented mouthguards may change the game in this space as an ideal head impact monitoring technology.

If these potential injuries can be properly and preemptively addressed, this can actually serve to keep the athletes playing more and contributing to their team’s success

Gus Domel, PhD

But beyond the benefits to health and neurological research, we cannot understate the benefits that head impact monitoring can bring to sports teams and coaches. When coaches and athletic trainers are able to monitor large impacts to their athletes’ heads, they might be able to more easily catch the initial signs of concussion and prevent more serious injuries associated with repeated aggressive head impacts (i.e. second impact syndrome in extreme cases). How? The sensors embedded in instrumented mouthguards, like the ones at FIT, can give an indication when a potential concussion-inducing impact is detected in real-time, enabling coaches and trainers to take preventative action instantly. If these potential injuries can be properly and preemptively addressed, this can actually serve to keep the athletes playing more and contributing to their team’s success, as opposed to the common misconception that impact monitoring is all about keeping athletes off the field. In the process of monitoring their team’s head impacts, a coach and athletic trainer, for example, may learn that several drills they are running during practice are actually quite dangerous to head health. This knowledge, and the ability to take action accordingly, is powerful, and can keep athletes healthy and competing when it matters most. But even beyond this, impact monitoring can generate insights on athletic performance. In football, for example, coaches might find that an offensive lineman is registering many head impacts because he is not properly blocking, which not only risks concussion and time on injury reserve, but also reduces the effectiveness of protecting the ball. We might learn that a quarterback’s passing accuracy, or a point guard’s shooting accuracy, or even a goalie’s ability to defend the net significantly drops after a shot to the head. At the end of the day, brain health is priority, but as we monitor head impacts more and more, we are empowered to not only protect the health of our athletes, but also to improve our teams’ success.