Recent Study Uses Mouth Guard Technology to Assess the Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury
What exactly happens to a football player’s brain after that player takes a hit to the head? According to a recent article in The New York Times, until relatively recently, physicians and researchers could not pinpoint the ways in which the brain reacted, at second-by-second intervals, to a concussive hit. However, a new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University takes it data from mouth guard technology that helps to track concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). These mouth guards have motion sensors in them that give a “more detailed and precise window into what [is] happening within the player’s brain in the milliseconds after the hit.”
What have these mouth guards taught researchers? According to David Camarillo, who runs the “Cam Lab” at Stanford University, researchers have long suspected that “the most damaging blows [to the head] are those that cause the head to snap quickly from ear to ear . . . or those that cause a violent rotation or twisting of the head through a glancing blow.” In other words, hits to the side of the head tend to be more dangerous than hits to the front or the back of the head. Why is this the case? As Camarillo articulates, “the brain’s wiring, essentially, is all running from left to right, not front to back.” As such, the direction of the hit to the head matters significantly.
An additional important revelation from the study is that current football helmets are not designed to protect players specifically from the damage caused by hits that cause the head to snap or twist from side to side. As such, Camarillo expects that helmet makers will begin to consider his team’s research (and that of other researchers using similar mouth guard technology) in their findings. It is also important to note that previous research using sensors inside helmets may not be as precise as Camarillo’s work, according to Robert Catu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine. As Catu explains, sensors connected directly to a football helmet tend to move independently from the brain, and as such are not as precise.
Preventing Sports-Related Concussions
What can athletes do in the meantime to prevent sports-related concussions? A fact sheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following safety tips to help limit the number of head injuries on the field:
- Create a safe sports culture in which athletes feel comfortable reporting possible concussions to parents or coaches;
- Enforce rules of fair sports play;
- Talk to student athletes about the dangers of concussions and the importance of concussion reporting;
- Ensure that your child’s athletics program has a “Concussion Action Plan” in place. This plan involves a) removing the athlete from play when a concussion is suspected, b) keeping the athlete out of the game until he or she can be cleared by a healthcare provider, c) recording and sharing information about the athlete’s injury, d) informing parent(s) or guardian(s) about the injury, and e) requesting instructions for further steps from the athlete’s healthcare provider.
As we are aware and the CDC fact sheet indicates, many athletes try to hide concussions because they are concerned about how the team will treat them (about 70%). At the same time, about 40% of athletes do not realize themselves that they have a concussion until they are assessed by a healthcare provider. Hopefully, with increased awareness, the numbers of concussions sustained each year will decrease. In the event that you or your child has suffered a concussion as a result of a sports injury, contact an experienced brain injury attorney to determine your rights.