According to a recent study, electronic sensors worn by non-helmeted sports players to measure head impacts may not be quick or accurate enough to measure more serious, angular hits to the head.

A media release from Washington State University notes that in recent years, as a result of concern about concussion from sports, players have been wearing head-impact sensors that record when a player receives a hard hit to the head and alert their trainers.

However, the new study, published recently in Procedia Engineering, examines wireless sensors used in sports during which players do not wear helmets, such as soccer, women’s lacrosse, and softball. These are affixed to headbands, mouth guards, adhesive patches, or within an earpiece.

In the study, study author Lloyd Smith, professor in the Voiland College’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and director of WSU’s Sports Science Laboratory, and others in the research team attached the non-helmeted sensor to a head dummy equipped with wired accelerometers to collect data for comparison with feedback from the small, battery-powered sensor. Then, using a pneumatic cannon, they fired lacrosse balls, soccer balls, and softballs at it at different speeds, the release explains.

The researchers recorded 234 impacts, directing the balls at the dummy’s chin and forehead. Ball speeds were similar to those found in game conditions, although the softball was projected at speeds slower than seen in fast-pitch competition to avoid damaging the dummy. The soccer ball was only directed at the forehead, the release continues.

The researchers found that the non-helmeted sensors aren’t able to accurately measure harder and faster hits, such as an impact from a hard-thrown softball. To measure the impact from a ball, the devices take several measurements in rapid succession. The sensors were able to accurately see the hits from the softer, slower balls, but they couldn’t take data fast enough to keep up with the faster hits, according to the release.

When the impact is harder, the sensor missed the peak acceleration, which would have the highest potential for causing a concussion.

The researchers also found that the sensors did worse at measuring rotational than linear acceleration.

“These sensors are one element in many ways to make sports safer,” Smith says in the release.

“I’m optimistic that people are taking these injuries more seriously, and I think it’s really encouraging in helping us better understand the effects and causes of concussions,” he adds.

[Source(s): Washington State University, Science Daily]