Tape It Up: Minnesota: Detecting Concussions through the Helmet

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Minnesota: Detecting Concussions through the Helmet

The growing number of concussions sustained by football players is a hot topic everywhere these days, but in Minnesota, the facts are alarming to the point of action, reports the Pioneer Press. For the 2007 season, the University of Minneosta is one of nine NCAA teams that is providing its players with helmets designed to detect concussions. Sensors in the Riddell Sports helmets monitor and record impacts the player takes to the head during practices and games, eliminating the growing trend of players remaining in the huddle with head injuries.

With the growing concern at the NFL level over the long-term effects of concussions, these helmets may increase the quality of life for former football players. At the very least, they should decrease the number of stories like that of Auburn linebacker Steve Gandy, who gave up football this week after sustaining his fourth concussion in eight months.

Along with Minnesota, three other Big Ten teams - Illinois, Indiana and Iowa - will pilot the system this season, and with such high-profile schools realizing the importance of this technology, expect it to catch on quick.

By this time next year, expect many more schools to be footing the hefty cost of the technology. Minnesota spent around $50,000 on the package of 70 helmets, encoders, pagers and a sideline processor designed to keep track of the data. The Gophers should have the helmets ready to go for their season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1.

Riddell began designing concussion-preventative helmets in 2002, and research company Simbex began testing its Head Impact Telemetry System (HIT System) a year later. The HIT System measures head impacts in real time using impact sensors, a processor and a transmitter. Wireless tranceivers, designed to retrofit into commercially available Riddell helmets, continually send each player's impact data to a receiver that can be located hundreds of meters from the field. Key signatures are stored from each impact, saving details on the hit from duration and location to peak acceleration and rotation. The data can then be reviewed and analyzed on a web server or PDA device and saved to a database. A pager warning is immediately sent to team medical personnel if a player records an unsafe impact, eliminating guesswork and judgment calls from the sidelines.

A player can no longer walk off a concussion without a trainer knowing about it, and that's good news.

In partnership with the Naitonal Institute of Health, Simbex has been working on this technology for over a decade, and the findings from their studies have implications for brain injury research. If this year's college trial of the software produces favorable results, expect to see these helmets make their NFL debut sooner rather than later.

The helmet system certainly does not prevent concussions, but makes significant strides towards better diagnosis and treatment of the injury.

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