Between the explosion of news coverage over the huge number of professional football players suing the National Football League (NFL) for permanent brain damage and/or wrongful death caused by repeated blows to the head during play or practice, as well as the publicity surrounding the new Will Smith movie “Concussion” due for widespread release on Christmas Day, public awareness is thankfully growing for the real danger of serious harm or death from sport concussions and traumatic brain injury.
However, it’s not just growing public awareness of the dangers to small children, teenagers, and young adults who play contact sports that is good news. It’s the fact that family doctors are becoming more educated on the subtle signs of brain injury in minors — especially those that are student athletes. Coaches and teachers and other school officials are also being instructed on how to prevent as well as how to identify concussions in young people.
This is excellent news — and we can all hope that family physicians, school nurses, team coaches, and others who oversee our children on the practice field and during the game, or treat them afterwards have the latest information and knowledge about concussions and TBIs in people under the age of 25 years.
New TechnologiesTo Fight Brain Injury in School Sports
But there’s more. With the spotlight being shone on concussion injuries in team sports, more and more news stories are popping up where innovations and inventions are being touted as ways to prevent or to help treat head injuries and concussions.
This is a high-power near-infrared light therapy (NILT) developed by doctors in Denver and Boston. It is a treatment for brain injury which medical researchers Theodore Henderson, Paolo Cassano (Mass General), and Larry Morries recently introduced in the journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.
See, “Treatments for traumatic brain injury with emphasis on transcranial near-infrared laser phototherapy,” by Larry D Morries, Paolo Cassano and Theodore A Henderson in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2015; 11: 2159–2175.
NILT works by having targeted near infrared light enter the brain through the skin and bone, to re-energize damaged brain cells. There are no side effects according to the researchers. It’s a new development because the light is able to go through the skull itself to help the brain, something that other light treatments have not been able to do.
2. Mouth Guard Alerts
In Kansas, new technology is already being used on the football field to try and block concussions and serious brain injuries from happening. Using a laptop on the side of the play or practice, a coach or assistant can monitor how much each player is being hit. If one player seems to be getting impacts on his head or spine more than others are getting hit — or if it just seems like a player is getting hit a lot, then they can be pulled from the field.
If a concussion or head injury is suspected, then that player is sent to a doctor to get evaluated immediately. The doctor decides when the player can return to the field.
The laptops being used in Kansas football are using software and hardware combinations that electronically track each player. This is done through a device inserted into the player’s mouth-guard (a sensor that reports to the laptop software).
Mouth Guard warnings for brain injuries have been around for awhile, but the technology is evolving. This year, for instance, advancements in mouth guard warning systems allowed for the measurement of acceleration forces on the brain itself as well as the translational forces to the head (up/down, left/right, front/back).
The team that developed this latest advancement in mouth guard technology, which allows for the first-ever measurements of all the acceleration forces, have already begun using the device on Stanford University football players, as well as boxers and mixed martial arts fighters in the Stanford University area.
See, “Six Degree-of-Freedom Measurements of Human Mild Traumatic Brain Injury,” by Fidel Hernandez Affiliated with Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University, Lyndia C. Wu, Michael C. Yip, Kaveh Laksari, Andrew R. Hoffman, Jaime R. Lopez, Gerald A. Grant, Svein Kleiven, David B. Camarillo, published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, August 2015, Volume 43, Issue 8, pp 1918-1934.
3. Cell Phone Monitor
With a sensor that is placed inside a headband or a skull cap and worn beneath a helmet, hits and injuries to the head can not only be monitored by coaches and training staff but parents can also be alerted via their cell phones.
Two products are on the market, SIM-G and SIM-P, that use radio frequencies to gather data from the gizmo being worn by the student and relay it to cellphones or tablets with the corresponding software.
The device checks the impact felt by the player’s head and skull. It’s a small gizmo, around an inch and a half in size, and it’s waterproof and rechargable. Thee monitors are being designed for use not just in football, but any school sport where there is a risk of head injury, such as soccer, hockey, basketball, etc.
For more information, check out the site where the devices are being sold, as well as lots of FAQ information and images, offered by Triax.
The Serious Aftermath of Traumatic Brain Injury and Sports Concussions in Children and Young Adults
Lots of media coverage today focuses upon professional athletes and the harm they and their families have suffered because of head injuries sustained while pursuing a career in professional football (or boxing).
However, it’s impossible to know how many children and young adults are being hurt and injured while playing school sports because of hits to the head. Even mild concussions can be serious injuries to human bodies that are still growing and developing.
Long term and permanent physical injuries can result from kids playing school sports and sustaining a head injury.
Additionally, and discussed much less, are the mental health ramifications of a child, teenager, or young adult who sustains a concussion or TBI.
These new technological advancements are wonderful things – and we’re excited at a future where they are being used here in Indiana and Illinois to keep kids safe.
However, the cruel reality is that children are being hurt and seriously injured with head injuries while playing sports and right now, these gizmos aren’t commonplace. Moreover, too few trainers, coaches, teachers, school nurses, and family doctors are fully educated and aware of the subtle signs of brain injury in children.
Kids are being hurt in school sports and that’s not a problem that has been solved yet. Be careful out there.