Concussion sensors in hurling should become a reality

An American company has developed a device which could benefit the GAA

BY Simon Maguire 22:00 Saturday 17 September 2016, 22:00 17 Sep 2016

Tipperary's Padraic Maher is tackled by Bill Cooper of Cork ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

As sports go, few match the skill and physicality of hurling. Intense and raw - It is beautiful to watch when played at its best.

As the game is an amateur sport however, certain elements can be overlooked. Indeed helmets only became compulsory at the beginning of 2010. 

At the time, a GAA statement said: “The injuries which the compulsory wearing of helmets will prevent and reduce in numbers are specifically those related to the head, face, eye and dental regions.” This is true for external injuries but what of internal ones?

The dangers and the repercussions of concussions have been highlighted in recent years, particularly in rugby, but they have yet to be fully addressed in other sports. Senior inter-county players are monitored professionally during competition, but there is an element of risk to other players - underage hurlers in particular - as it is impossible to have a medic at every game or training session around the country.

According to the Sports Concussion Institute, an “estimated 47% of athletes do not report feeling any symptoms after a concussive blow."   

However, an American device could provide an unprecedented level of safety that is yet to be considered in our sport. Originally developed for American football and lacrosse, the Shockbox helmet sensor measures the level of any impact and sends a signal to the sideline to advise if a player (or players) require attention.

Speaking exclusively to Newstalk.com, Jesse Harper, President and CEO of i1 Biometrics, who developed the Shockbox said: “more than four million concussions and sports brain injuries occur worldwide each year. Every week, there are new stories about athletes who have suffered debilitating effects from concussions and traumatic brain injuries.”

"Danny Crossman, a former Army bomb disposal officer, was looking for a simple, compatible, and affordable solution to monitor traumatic brain injuries. Working with Scott Clark, a coach and hockey player, they developed the Shockbox to tackle the head injury epidemic."

"Originally designed to be an LED only indication device, the system quickly evolved into a full long range wireless sensor connected to a smartphone, and is able to pair over 100 sensors to a single handset.”

The Shockbox sensor is attached to the inside of an athlete’s helmet. It allows for a real-time diagnosis of a hit and sends the information (via an app) to a device on the sideline. A management team can monitor their entire team at once. According to Harper: "after downloading our mobile app and syncing the devices, a coach or trainer can be linked to all of their players at once." 

A parent can also keep an eye on their own child as "the device can also be individualized so that one sensor is paired to one phone."

Given the obvious difficulty in having trained medical professionals at every underage game around the country, he said: “less than half of high school teams in the United States have access to a certified athletic trainer. Medical professionals aren’t always on hand to see if a player is at risk or trying to mask symptoms of a concussion.

"There’s no device that prevents concussions, but what the Shockbox does is that it gives coaches and athletic trainers the access they need to monitor, track and quantify potentially harmful impacts that could lead to serious or even fatal injuries.

"As a coaching resource, parents, players and trainers have all responded well to it. Parents have been especially excited about the product as they have significant concerns about the safety of their children playing sports, and the increasing information regarding concussion risk,” he added.

A report released by the Irish College of General Practitioners in 2010 estimated there are 350,000 hurlers and camogie players across the country. The development of the Shockbox might be the best way to keep a digital record of any head injuries a player receives.  

The Science behind the Shockbox

Shockbox can assess the linear acceleration magnitude and direction of an impact that may result in a concussion. The technology is designed to send an alert to the sidelines at an impact threshold of 20g (peak G linear acceleration).

To put this type of hit into perspective: a car accident at 60km p/h registers a 50g hit while some massive hits in professional sports can reach up to 150g.

 

A study carried out by researchers in Ottawa indicated that 65% of concussions occur at the 90g mark. The research has shown that a concussion can also occur at 40g.

According to Harper the Shockbox "has been part of clinical research and pilot programs since 2011. We started by validating the efficiency of the technology within hockey and football, and have since expanded their reach."

Other uses

In relation to other sports, Harper concluded: "We’ve seen a lot of interest in athletes [who] wanted the extra layer of safety that Shockbox offers whether snowboarding, skiing, or cycling. [...] As sports fans, we love seeing all of these athletes playing smarter and playing safer.

In relation to working with the GAA and introducing the sensor in Ireland, Harper said: "Each individual unit costs $179, but we offer different pricing structures and group rates for teams, leagues, and sports organizations." 

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