Concussion

Smart Protection: Innovations in Concussion-Reducing Equipment in Athletic Training

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Concussions have made major waves in sports around the globe. In response, the NFL has changed its tackling policy, rugby players are forced to sit out if they’ve sustained a suspected head injury, and soccer players are advised against heading the ball in practice. 

Most of these changes are designed to reduce the risk of collisions and repetitive blows to the brain. This makes sense, as many athletes with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) say they are unaware of the dangers and unwilling to make a change unless mandated by rules. 

Athletic trainers (ATs) can make a positive difference, too. Innovations in concussion-reducing equipment are making sports that much safer and improving our understanding of CTE. This is key, as decision-makers in major leagues need accurate, relevant data to make rule changes that improve player safety while maintaining the spirit of the game.  

Understanding Concussion

Concussions tend to make headline news when players are removed from competition. Nowadays, players have to clear concussion protocol if trainers suspect that they have been involved in a head injury. Oftentimes, these checks are precautionary (as was the case with TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith before the Steeler’s week 15 game).

However, if a player fails to clear concussion protocol, it is crucial that they be sidelined for their own safety. 

That’s because concussions are a serious, traumatic type of brain injury. The CDC explains that concussions can be caused by a “bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.” Even so-called “mild” concussions can have life-altering effects. Symptoms of concussion include: 

  • Headache;
  • Confusion and memory loss; 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting;
  • Ringing in the ears and drowsiness;
  • Dizziness or blurry vision.

These symptoms are usually enough to keep sufferers on the sideline. However, many athletes will try to hide their symptoms for fear that time off will negatively affect their career or team. This is a real issue, as symptoms may not even begin until hours later. 

Treatment involves monitoring, rest, and recovery. There’s little athletic trainers can do to heal a concussion. Instead, the athlete must be made comfortable, forced to rest, and told to check in regularly to guard against more serious conditions like bleeds on the brain. 

Reducing the Risk

Measuring the effectiveness of rule changes addressing concussions can be tough. The NFL actually experienced an uptick in concussions in the 2022 season despite rule changes designed to protect athletes. However, this is likely due to improved reporting and understanding of concussion protocol. 

Athletic trainers can help athletes avoid serious concussions by providing them with smart protection equipment. Recent improvements to head-injury prevention technology have already made a lasting impression on athlete safety. Today, ATs can employ a range of protective equipment, including: 

  • Helmets with shock absorbers that release air and reduce force through the brain. 
  • Mouthguards with sensors that track shock to detect concussion. These mouthguards, which are developed by Bio-Eye and HitIQ, have already been utilized by the Australian Football League.
  • Data-driven programs that track concussion occurrences and help educate athletes to reduce the risk of concussions occurring. 

Unlike other injuries, principles like R.I.C.E. can’t help athletes recover. Instead, preventative measures must be taken to reduce the risk of an accident. Athletic trainers can play an important role by providing athletes with the latest innovations in concussion-reducing equipment.  

Athletic trainers across the country should try to track and log any concussions, too. Research surrounding CTE is still in its infancy and researchers are trying to understand the issue more thoroughly. By keeping detailed injury reports, ATs can improve the veracity of the data sets being used and improve the current concussion protocol standards. 

The Future

Concussions and CTE grab headlines when players are removed from games or forced to retire. This is a major improvement from a decade ago when the very idea of CTE was swept under the rug and denied by major leagues like the NFL. 

Today, however, athletic trainers must remain vigilant in order to protect athletes from harm. More must be done to keep players from re-entering the field of play when they have a suspected brain injury but are keen to get back on. 

That’s why many researchers believe low-budget, electronic devices may provide a more objective, personalized assessment. Objective, digital technology cannot be swayed by the importance of the moment or the stature of a player. This would have protected players like Tua Tagovailoa, who infamously re-entered a game after stumbling to his feet but was only diagnosed with concussion the day following. 

Athletic trainers who work with individual sports athletes need to exercise caution, too. Many athletes turn their garages into gyms complete with high-end flooring, quality equipment, and dumbbells. While this may seem like a good idea at first, one slip can lead to a lasting head injury. Athletic trainers can protect these self-motivated players by risk-assessing the space. Oftentimes, athletes will have to declutter the space, invest in storage solutions like Slatwall panels, and bring in bright lighting. This keeps athletes safe from harm and minimizes the risk of an injury while working from home. 

Conclusion

Smart protection is essential to protect players from concussions and CTE. Today, trainers can leverage a host of high-tech helmets, smart mouthguards, and concussion protocols to keep players safe. Even simple innovations, like improved reporting, lay the foundation for future changes that can minimize the risk of head injuries occurring.

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