One of the dangerous things about sports-related concussions is the fact that athletes may not realize they have one, so they don’t seek much-needed medical attention. A new sensor could let them (or their coaches) know, and it would go on their neck, not their head.
Although a number of groups have developed helmet-integrated sensors that detect the type of impacts associated with concussions, such devices aren’t necessarily 100-percent reliable. In some cases, they may sound an alert when no concussion has occurred, or they may dismiss an impact that has caused such an injury.
Seeking a more accurate alternative, Michigan State University’s Prof. Nelson Sepúlveda noted that when college football players received head impacts, their head rapidly moved whiplash-style to one side. Working with graduate student Henry Dsouza, he proceeded to develop a thin-film adhesive-patch sensor that could detect the telltale neck movements.
Roughly the size of a small bandage, the prototype device is only about 0.1 mm thick, and it incorporates a piezoelectric material that produces an electrical charge when stretched or compressed. The charge data is relayed to a computer, which analyzes it to determine if a concussion-grade impact has occurred.
In a test of the technology, accelerometers were placed within a dummy head, plus some of the “bandage” sensor patches were applied to the front, back and either side of that head’s flexible neck. The head was then dropped approximately 2 ft (0.6 m) onto a hard surface.
When readings from the patches were compared to those from the accelerometers, it was found that the two systems performed equally well at detecting concussion-causing impacts. Unlike helmet-integrated accelerometers, however, the sensor patches wouldn’t produce false readings caused by factors such as the helmet sliding relative to the head.
“I really thought the sensor had to be on the head,” said Sepúlveda. “I was surprised to learn from the experiences and my students that we could tell there was a concussion to the head by the way the neck moved.”
He is now looking into ways of streamlining the design of the patch, such as equipping it with a transmitter that would wirelessly relay data to a nearby computer or mobile device.
The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: Michigan State University
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