As concern about concussions in athletics increases, some athletes have begun wearing electronic sensors to measure head impacts.
However, a team of Washington State University researchers found that these sensors might be inaccurate in some cases. Specifically, they found that sensors used in non-helmeted sports are not fast enough to accurately measure hard hits, and don’t accurately report data on serious angular hits.
Most head-impact sensors have been developed within the past five years, and many college football teams use them. When a player is hit, the sensors record data and send it to athletic training staff. Research has found that helmeted sensors accurately measure trauma-related data.
Non-helmeted, wireless sensors are less commonly used, but can be affixed to headbands, mouth guards, adhesive patches or within a special earpiece for non-helmet sports like softball or soccer.
The WSU researchers conducted a study in which they attached a non-helmeted sensor to a dummy and recorded hits using a pneumatic cannon and different sports balls at different speeds. While slower, softer hits were accurately measured, they found inaccuracies in measuring the impact from a harder, faster hit.
“The harder the ball, the less correlation we found,” said Lloyd Smith, director of the Washington State University Sports Science Lab.
The sensors also did poorly at measuring impact from rotational hits, which are more likely than linear, direct hits to cause a brain injury.
“The message is that you have to be careful with these sensors,” Smith said. “They may not work for every type of impact.”