Concussion Research Impacts Athletes
The bodies of Georgia Southern Eagles football players take a pounding during a season and during countless practices. By the nature of the game, football injuries happen; however, the University put a revolutionary system in play this season to protect the health of these student-athletes.
The Eagles are using new equipment to hopefully prevent concussions. Georgia Southern is the only collegiate football team in the state using the Helmet Impact Telemetry System (HITS). It measures and records every hit to the head a player receives in games and practices.
“The system worked really well, and we received some great data from HITS for our concussion research,” said Tom Buckley, Ed.D., associate professor of athletic training. “This is not a one year project. We will be able to track players and their hits from year to year to determine the cumulative effects of concussions.”
Georgia Southern has equipped 40 Riddell helmets with HITS which is produced by Simbex. It costs around $1,500 per helmet with funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. It is a solid investment in safety by the University. “We want to do everything we can to prevent our student-athletes from suffering a head injury,” said Georgia Southern President Brooks A. Keel, Ph.D. “The addition of this monitoring equipment will hopefully reduce the risks our Eagle players face on the field.”
There are six sensors in the helmets that measure the severity of each hit to the head. Each hit typically lasts around 15-milliseconds and has the impact of being in a 20 – 25 mile per hour car wreck. The data collected is then transmitted in nearly real-time to a computer being monitored on the sideline during every practice and game.
If a hit reaches a certain threshold, a pager worn by a graduate research student and the head athletic trainer will receive a notification. “If I get a message saying a player took a hard hit, I’m going to be keeping a close eye on that player,” said Eagles Head Athletic Trainer Brandy Clouse. “If that player displays any unusual behavior, I’m coming over to do a clinical evaluation to make sure that he’s not trying to hide it or downplay the hit and that it’s safe for him to continue playing.”
Each impact will also be time-stamped and can be synchronized with game video so coaches, athletic trainers and researchers can better evaluate the hits. “We can look at the body position, see what the athlete is doing and examine the force they experience,” said biomechanics professor Barry Munkasy, Ph.D. “We can then consider what can be done to reduce those hits by possibly changing techniques or teaching players what to do to lower their risks that will help improve their performance.”
HITS is not a diagnostic piece of medical equipment, but it is an early warning system. “At the midway point of the season, we had four players suffer concussions while wearing the HITS helmets,” explained Buckley. “We are now studying those impacts. We are looking at whether the magnitude or direction of the velocity had any bearing on what the outcome of the concussion was and whether the player’s cognition and balance were affected.”
HITS is a first line of defense to help keep the Eagles safe and in the game.
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