Iowa football players to test concussion devices


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Helmets crash between two linemen, each weighing in at more than 275 pounds, every play. Before the whistle blows, there is a possibility of a concussion.

University of Iowa officials are researching how a patch the size of a quarter could predict patterns, plays, or positions at higher risk for head injuries.

The UI Sports Medicine Center will partner with a West Coast company to research impact on athletes health. X2 Biosystems will provide devices designed to measure the impact and location of hits to the head on Hawkeye football players.

These gadgets may be seen behind the ears of up to 50 Hawkeye football players in coming seasons to aid in research on concussion management already in place at the UI.

Controversy about concussions in athletes is due to the concern of athletes returning to the field too soon after an initial concussion, sustaining a second head injury, and suffering from second-impact syndrome, in which an athlete can collapse on the field and die, doctors say.

X2 Biosyhstems’ software includes a sensor in an adhesive patch placed behind an athlete’s ear. The patch can then send information about the impact of a hit wirelessly to the sidelines.

“This won’t replace clinical care in any way. Athletes will still receive the standard medical care on the sidelines,” said Clinical Assistant Professor Andy Peterson of the UI Sports Medicine Center. “I’d rather have well-trained athletics trainers and physicians at concussion management around my team than fancy devices.”

Peterson said X2 Biosystems delivered 50 of these units in November, but the university will use the information as research, not as an official way to diagnose concussions on the field.

X2 Biosystems is not the first company to develop a device to measure the impact of hits on the field. The Michigan football team has been using similar software called head impact telemetry system for around seven years, said Steven Broglio, a certified athletics trainer and director of the Neurosport Research Laboratory at the university.

“We initially began using the program to try to come up with a threshold of force needed for a real-time diagnosis,” Broglio said. “But we’ve found it’s not possible. There’s not only variability between individuals but also within individuals. On any given day, it can change.”

While systems such as that and the system the UI is testing can’t actually diagnose when a player has a concussion, they can serve as a guide for athletics trainers.

“These systems try to measure if different locations of impact affect the severity of concussions and what players sustain more frequent impact,” said Richard Spelts, a concussion specialist at the Southern California Orthopedic Institute. “The data can alert teams if there’s a need to change the technique and tackling to protect certain athletes more.”

Currently at the UI, physicians use a computer-based neurocognitive tests along with a sideline checklist that checks balance, reaction time, and memory to assess whether an athlete has suffered a concussion.

While these can serve as effective objective tests in recognizing concussions, physicians also rely on symptoms described by the individual. But often, athletes avoid reporting symptoms to stay active on the team.

To address this possible problem, Peterson said the department does not place a limit of the number of concussions an athlete can have while on the team.

“Say we had a rule, ‘three concussions and you’re out’ — if someone has had two concussions, I would think they would be much less likely to report the third one,” he said.

Not only do officials in the Athletics  Department have concerns about safety, UI President Sally Mason said she also wants the university to play a “big role” in the safety of its athletes.

“We have to be involved with this,” Mason said. “We should be involved with this, and where better than these great research universities with great medical centers to do the kinds of research that would allow us to make that kind of progress on this, so I’m very excited about this.”

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