By Justin Wise
The role concussions play in the sport of football has gone well documented in recent years, but whether the cause of one is due to thousands of marginal impacts to the head or one crushing blow remains a question.
For the past few years now, David Camarillo, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, and his associates have been trying to answer that and have done so by supplying Stanford football players with mouth guards equipped with accelerometers that measure the impacts players sustain during a practice or game, according to an article published by Stanford News.
This sensor laden mouth guard is used by Camarillo’s group on the basis that it can directly measure skull accelerations due to it being attached to the top layer of the teeth. Currently its been recorded that a player’s head may typically be subjected to accelerations of 10g forces. In rarer instances, players have been subjected to 100g forces, which hails in comparison to what astronauts receive upon launch and reentry (3g forces).
Those numbers are obviously alarming, yet flawed when understanding that a player throwing the mouth guard to the ground can register almost the same amount of force as him meeting a running back at full speed.
So then to overcome this problem, Camarillo’s group has installed infrared proximity sensors into the mouthpiece, so that it can detect when the device is firmly seated against the player's teeth. In addition, machine-learning algorithms sift out "noisy" signals to only focus on real impacts.
"We do know that sustaining a second injury right after the first injury will exacerbate the trauma, so detecting that injury is critical," Lydia Wu, a bioengineering doctoral student, said in the university’s press release. "However, diagnosis often relies on players to self-report injuries, which doesn't work often for a variety of reasons. A player typically shakes it off, thinking he will be fine, without telling the coaches or trainers. Eventually, we hope to have a device that is able to screen for injury in real time."
The newly developed technology has been tested in the lab and has shown a 99 percent rate of accuracy when diagnosing head impacts. The next steps involve refining the technology, but it does not stop there.
Camarillo and his team is also interested in creating new helmets and other protective headgear with an instrumented mouth guard that can collect head biomechanics data. In turn, that will lead to even more understanding of what measures can be taken to better diagnose head injuries on the football field.
As Wu said, the end goal envisions having real-time concussion screening taking place in football.
However this first-of-its-kind mission by the bioengineers at Stanford will not only affect the gridiron, but ideally, according to Camarillo, make bike riding and riding in a car safer, too.
The university article by Bjorn Carey on the study can be found via Stanford News online.