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  • Measuring Head Impact Exposure

    by Guest Blogger | Aug 18, 2016

    By: Kasee Hildenbrand

    From August 5 through August 22, the ACSM Sports Performance Blog is featuring a special content series in celebration of the achievements of elite athletes participating in international competition. Be sure to follow the blog as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (acsm1954) and share using #ScienceofSport.

    With all the media attention on concussion, a common term that is referenced is “head impact exposure.”  Concussions are notoriously hard to research since signs and symptoms can be very individualized and researchers often must “wait” for patients to suffer a concussion before research can begin specific to what a patient is experiencing. 

    As researchers are working to understand how and why a concussion occurs in some instances and not in others, many are now looking at head impact exposure.  Impacts that do not result in a concussion get labeled as “sub-concussive” impacts, meaning they did not result in a concussion, but did register movement to the head. Using devices developed to measure both linear and rotation acceleration, researchers can examine the magnitude of impacts as well as the number of impacts during a sporting event.  Using sensors either embedded into helmeted sports, or sensors that can be embedded in mouth guards or worn affixed to the head by adhesive patches or head bands, researchers can monitor when a patient’s head moves and attempt to measure the magnitude of movement.  Using this information, researchers can track the number of impacts and use this information to compare levels of play (youth, high school, college and professional), sex and type of sport. 

    The take-home message is that head impact exposure provides information about the magnitude and number of impacts a head might receive, but we don’t yet know how this translates into concussion risk, both immediately and long-term.  But it does provide useful comparisons between sports, sex and level of play.

    Kasee Hildenbrand is associate director of athletic training at Washington State University Pullman.

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