One of the ways for a person to get a concussion is to suffer a blow to the head. Many sports — including “non-contact” sports such as soccer — can result in head impacts during the course of routine play. The problem is that not all impacts result in a concussion. And there’s evidence that a series of smaller impacts can be as damaging as a single larger blow. Researchers and companies have tried different placements for sensors to measure the forces involved in a head impact, but as we’ve written before, perhaps the most useful location is in a mouthguard; it is nearer the center of gravity of the head, and is most likely to remain tightly connected to the head as it moves.
Prevent Biometrics is a company with a new force-sensing mouthguard. Unlike some other devices that only measure linear forces in three axes, this device also measures rotational forces in all three axes. This is important, as there are indications that rotational forces may result in more trauma to the brain than a straight-line blow. The data is gathered and sent wirelessly to an app on a smartphone or tablet where team staff can monitor the status of each player. If an impact exceeds a preset limit, a red LED in the front of the mouthguard glows and an alert is sent to the app, indicating that the player should be taken aside and evaluated.
The company is a spin-off of the renown Cleveland Clinic and has received funding support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The company also is heavily involved in scientific research about head impact and concussion injuries. According to company representatives, theirs is the only product that has been proven in a peer-reviewed study to have a +/- 5 percent accuracy rate, using the National Football League’s (NFL) Validation Standard. The product is in beta testing now, with limited distribution planned for later in 2017. The product is expected to be available on a broader basis to teams and leagues (not to individual consumers) in 2018.
We need to know a lot more about the causes and treatment of concussive head injuries, especially as we try to understand the effects of cumulative impacts and the variations among individuals. Accurate data gathered from a device like the Prevent Biometrics smart mouthguard could rapidly advance our knowledge in these areas, which could lead to increased prevention of injuries in the first place.