New concussion detection method may come to aid of youth football players


May 9, 2016

Topic: orthopaedic fracture, sports injuries

A new development may lower the risk of concussions in youth football players.

These days, it is not uncommon to hear football and concussion in the same phrase. Just take the film "Concussion," due to release on Christmas Day 2015. The movie addresses an issue that has been going on for years: Concussions, though frequently caused in football, tend to go unnoticed despite their health consequences. Luckily, a new development may help change all that.

Researchers from the University of Montreal may have found a way to identify concussions in youth football players in a few short steps. Their discoveries might help lower the risk of concussions in the sport and improve the health of football players who sustain concussions during play. The findings were discussed at the International Congress on Sport Sciences Research and Technology Support.

The study authors developed a noninvasive way to detect whether football players had a concussion or not. Their approach incorporated both cognitive and physical factors to help create an individual profile for each football player. The researchers believed that using these profiles, physicians and medical staff could easily determine whether a player had sustained a concussion.

"The process only took the researchers and participants seven minutes to complete."

A balancing act
Each week, the researchers conducted a cognitive and biomechanical assessment on players at the same time. The athletes would have to simultaneously perform a series of tasks, and the researchers would record their scores. For instance, the players had to walk through a series of obstacles while being asked questions that tested their cognitive processing. They also used a markerless motion capture system to collect this data. How each player went about these tests allowed the study authors to create their individual profile. This process only took the researchers and participants seven minutes to complete, and it gave the researchers clear answers on which athletes had experienced a concussion. Conversely, the medical staff used in the study took much longer to determine who had head injuries.

Their findings could make the difference between an injured player being taken off the field and a player going back in because his symptoms went undetected. Players who continually sustain concussions could have serious cognitive and memory issues later on in life. If the initial concussion is serious, experiencing continual impact could lead to considerable brain damage and even death.

"Our measurements let us quickly detect concussion symptoms that could go unnoticed by health care professionals or by the young athletes themselves," lead study author Christian Duval, Ph.D., said. "The test we developed also simulates game situations, because in football, players are stimulated both physically and intellectually."

Hopefully, the study's findings will push for progress on a hot-button issue. It may help take players in danger off the field, and it might help medical staff make better informed decisions when they are deciding how long a player should be out of the season for.

Youth concussions may happen more often than people think. Youth concussions may happen more often than people think.

A jarring reality
There are currently 3 million youth football players nationwide, the publication International Business Times noted. According to a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, 1 in 30 youth football players between the ages of 5 and 14 will experience at least one concussion during their season. The researchers from the study suspect their findings could be lower than the true number, as players might not have reported their concussions or their head injury went unnoticed, as so many do.

Concussions and other head injuries are much more common for football players to experience than other sports injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament tears and orthopaedic fractures. While concussions are becoming increasingly prevalent among youth football players, they are even more likely in high school and collegiate players, where the level of competition is more intense.

Overall, recent studies have suggested that these small concussions could have long-term effects, especially if they go untreated. These problems have most commonly emerged among NFL players, who play at the highest level of competition for the sport, the International Business Times noted. More and more NFL players have begun to speak out about the long-term effects they have experienced from continual head hits. The most common condition seen among these players is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition that approximately 70 NFL football players have.

While many football programs are beginning to take proactive steps to prevent chronic conditions from forming, it can be hard for many coaches and staff to immediately detect concussion symptoms. Hopefully now they might have an easier way to.


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