Amid growing concern over traumatic brain injury (TBI), more and more athletes are wearing head-mounted sensors that gauge the speed and force of the impacts sustained during competition.
Anyone who has seen the 2015 biographical sports drama, Concussion, featuring Will Smith as a Pittsburgh forensic pathologist, already knows that sports-related head injuries have repeatedly made headlines over the last decade.
As the neurobehavioral problems associated with such traumatic brain injuries are increasingly analyzed, trainers and team physicians are attempting to prevent injuries by gaining a better understanding of the forces at play.
While scientists are still working to establish baseline brain function parameters, constant monitoring of in-game impacts may help limit injuries and their short- and long-term effects on the brain.
Technology at Play
It is difficult to accurately assess the intracranial damage produced by a blow to the head without significant medical testing. Measuring the acceleration of the head during the blow, however, can give us a good idea of potential injury.
One company responding to the increasing concern over TBI is BlackBox Biometrics (B3). Founded in 2011, the Rochester, New York company has developed a small, wireless sensor and app that can detect blows and measure head acceleration during training and competition.
The technology—known as Linx IAS—started life as a military tool to measure the impact of explosion shock waves. It fits against the skull on a fabric headband, wirelessly transmitting the strength of potentially concussive forces to a recording app.
“The sensor in the Linx IAS system is designed to measure the types of concussive forces experienced by athletes, which come about due to both linear and rotational acceleration,” says Laura DeMartino, B3’s Marketing Communications Specialist. “These measurements help parents, coaches and trainers make decisions about treatment and training techniques.”
However, Black Box Biometrics isn’t the only player in the TBI market. Maryland-based Brainscope is a neurotechnology company currently working to develop a new generation of handheld systems for evaluating symptoms of TBI in patients with mild concussions. The Head Trax system from Seattle-based X2 Biosystems includes a wearable sensor, as well as apps for data management and concussion evaluation.
Evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
The demand for devices that can accurately measure TBI is unlikely to decline. While concussions in America’s National Football League (NFL) are now dropping—largely due to increased awareness of TBI and added resources devoted to the issue by the NFL— evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was identified in the brains of 87 of 91 deceased former players in 2015.
Beyond the professional sports arena, more and more parents are worried about the TBI risks faced by their children.
Increasingly sophisticated sensors from companies such as B3 can’t prevent potentially damaging impacts, but they do provide useful, timely information. Learning to interpret and act appropriately on such data is the next step. In addition, the link between TBI and CTE—the brain disease found in patients with a history of repetitive concussions—is still not properly understood.