Mouthguard sensors will record impact data from athletes

Student athletes at Stanford University are to wear high-tech mouthguards equipped with pressure sensors to record impact data on the field of play.  

The device will be tested in the university men’s American football team and women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams.

‘This study will build toward establishing clinically relevant head-impact correlations and thresholds to allow for a better understanding of the biomechanics of brain injuries,’ said Dan Garza, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford. ‘It also will serve as a helpful tool to aid in the diagnosis and subsequent management of concussions.’

Data will be transmitted wirelessly from the device to computers on the sidelines and video will subsequently be used to correlate specific events on the field, such as a tackles, with sensor readings.

Although there have been previous studies of head impacts in sport using sensors embedded in helmets, the researchers say the mouthpiece data will prove to be more accurate, given that helmets sometimes shift on players’ heads in a collision.

To ensure the devices are measuring impacts as they would be experienced at the centre of a player’s head, researchers have been conducting mechanical tests with a helmeted crash-test-dummy head that wears the mouthpiece.The simulated head has other sensors planted in the middle of its skull to provide comparative data. ‘We discovered that the device measures impacts very, very accurately,’ Garza said.

Eventually, longitudinal data gathered over the course of a season could be used by clinicians in combination with more traditional diagnostic tests.

‘We need to get a better understanding of the epidemiology of these injuries,’ Garza said. ‘That will involve correlating the magnitude of impacts with associated morbidities, [such as] the number of days lost to injury, as well as looking at players’ head-trauma histories to determine possible cumulative effects.’