New Neck Patch Can Detect Concussions In High-Impact Sport Athletes
By Nicole Rodrigues, 01 Jul 2022
Concussions caused by high-impact sports can lead to several health issues, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain condition that is caused by repetitive blows to the head. At Michigan State University, Nelson Sepúlveda and his team have developed a patch that can be stuck onto the necks of athletes to diagnose a concussion.
During a single season, it is estimated that approximately 140 concussions are reported by football players, making that one player for every five games who sustains a head injury. Currently, the only protective measure in place, besides the helmet, are accelerometers within the helmet to detect a concussion. However, since the headgear is not directly attached to the body, it is often inaccurate.
The patch is a paper-thin piece of piezoelectric film, placed onto the nape of the neck, that holds two electrodes. Its thermoplastic material produces a pulse of electricity when touched, and the stronger the touch the more aggressive the signal sent to the computer. The sensors track the speed and acceleration in the movement of the neck to better understand how these concussions can occur.
The patch was first tested on a human dummy that was dropped from a height of 60 centimeters (23.6 inches), with the model’s neck packed with sensors to create a control for the experiment. The patch and the sensors ended up lining up 90% of the time.
Often, concussions can go undetected, leading to symptoms that get progressively worse or won’t go away. They can also lead to CTE, a common disease among footballers that cannot be diagnosed until an autopsy is performed. And since there are no other forms of treatment for concussions besides rest, being able to detect and prevent them is the best first-line defense.
Concussions in footballers and the way they lead to CTE, have long been discussed as impact is often associated with outbursts of violence and aggression and has even led to crimes—as in the case of Mike Webster, center for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, who passed away in 2002 and subsequently was discovered to have CTE. Other notable cases include Junior Seau’s suicide and Aaron Hernandez’s murder-suicide case.
Head injuries aren’t only exclusive to footballers—boxers, rugby players, and soccer players all have a tendency to suffer from head damage. This neck patch is a step in the right direction for the safety of all high-impact athletes safe while playing their sport.
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