Editorial Feature

Using Helmet Sensors to Measure Sports-Related Head Impacts

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Article updated on 09/03/20 by Sarah Moore

Sports-related injuries have been given more research attention over the past few years. The sensor technology is being increasingly used to measure how sports-related head impacts can lead to brain injuries. This research has aimed to gain a deeper level of understanding of how sports injuries can harm athletes, informing experts about how best to keep people safe and healthy while playing sport.

The NFL uses Helmet Sensors

Each year around 3.8 million people suffer concussions either related to playing sport or from recreation. Around 8.9% of all high school injuries are also attributed to concussive injuries, and represent around 5.8% of all collegiate athletic injuries. Experts suspect these figures are likely to be low estimates due to under-reporting.

Given that such a large number of people are affected by this condition, which can lead to traumatic brain injury and in some cases can be life-threatening,  effective preventative and diagnostic methods must be developed to protect sports players.

Perhaps the most effective method of tracking and measuring sports-related head impacts is the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) system TM by Simbex. Since 2004, the HIT system has been tested on NFL players. The software system measures head accelerations in real-time whilst the player is performing during a game. The technology has sensors embedded inside the players helmet connected to a microprocessor-based data collector that receives data on head accelerations from an encoder.

In the event of a collision, the software analyses the impact and sends this data via an alert pager as a warning signal. The collected data is based on acceleration, rotational acceleration, and impact duration.

This HIT technology has been used since to help support the Sideline Response SystemTM, a project that monitors a player for impact on a head during a game, and in the event of a concussion, a signal is delivered to the sideline medical team. This technology is quickly becoming known for its use in further applications afield including army advanced combat programs.

Reviewing the Effectiveness of Helmet Sensors

In 2017, a team of researchers conducted an extensive review of studies looking into the use of helmet sensors to measure sports injuries. They found that measurements collected by these sensors were able to provide real-time data, but they were limited in terms of sensitivity to a concussion. They conclude that head-impact–monitoring systems need to be developed further, however, they do note that they have already successfully been used to reduce clinical error rates.

Real-life Applications of Helmet Sensors

Other than NFL, high school and college football teams are incorporating the use of helmet sensors into their practices to protect the health of their players. Currently, some teams are opting to use them to collect data on the force of the impacts that athletes suffer in terms of G-forces.

A protocol has been established whereby there is a limit to how much G-force a player can withstand and can be considered safe to continue playing.Once sensors measure that this threshold has been crossed, a bell rings to inform the team coach that the player needs to be assessed even if they do not show signs of concussion.

Future Directions

Further research into this technology is focusing on how likely it is for a single head injury to be directly associated with a clinical diagnosis of concussion and brain injury. One of the main benefits of this technology is to use this data to help players understand and manipulate their on-field behavior to avoid any future concussion-related injuries. The HIT technology is also important for providing real-time data on head impacts; information that is not visible with the naked eye when the injury is occurring.

References and Further Reading

De Lench, B. Impact Sensors: Many Benefits Of Real-Time Monitoring. [Online] Moms Team. Available at: https://www.momsteam.com/health-safety/impact-sensors-benefits-real-time-monitoring-are-many (Accessed on 6 March 2020).

Georgia Southern University. Research. [Online] Available at: https://chp.georgiasouthern.edu/hk/labs/concussion-research/research/ (Accessed on 6 March 2020).

O’Connor L. K. (2017) Head-Impact–Measurement Devices: A Systematic Review. J Athl Train. 52(3), pp.206–227. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050.52.2.05

Chin, S. Football helmet sensors monitor impact of collisions, tackles. [Online] FierceElectronics. Available at: https://www.fierceelectronics.com/sensors/football-helmet-sensors-monitor-impact-collisions-tackles (Accessed on 6 March 2020).

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