A new research using high-tech helmets has shown that even low-impact head hits in sports like American football can cause brain injuries, a finding which might lead to better understanding about head traumas and improved sporting equipments. According to a report in Discovery News, Kevin Guskiewicz, professor of exercise and sport science and director of the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducted the research.
Guskiewicz and his team conducted their research using a sensor-imbedded helmet called the Revolution IQ HITS, which contains six sensors that measure acceleration.
Placed at the crown of the helmet, as well as the left side, right side, face and back, the sensors measure in real time the amount of g-force a player's head experiences at impact, where the hit occurs, and where it comes from.
G-force, which is a measure of acceleration against the Earth's gravitational pull, is something astronauts or jet pilots experience. But, football players are no different as they also commonly experience hits at forces between 50g and 100g.
Though previous research suggested that concussions likely resulted at forces above 75g, the new study indicates otherwise.
Between 2004 and 2006, University of North Carolina football players wore the helmets during practice sessions and games. While some players sustained concussions undergoing hits just above 60g, others had no sign of injury after a hit above 90g.
"Players who look like they have been hit really hard aren't necessarily the ones who will sustain the most brain damage," said Guskiewicz.
According to the report, other findings showed that a single knock to the head at an impact greater than 90g doesn't always result in immediate concussion symptoms, such as headache, nausea, blurred vision or ringing in the ears.
In fact, location, not necessarily force, seemed to play a significant role in brain injury. Six out of 13 players that sustained a concussion had experienced impacts at the top of the their head, as opposed to the side.
"There's no relationship between the magnitude of the impact and the clinical outcome," said Guskiewicz.
The results of the research not only challenge some conventional views about head trauma, it could also lead to safer practice sessions, improved sports equipment, and help physicians better understand injuries such as concussions.
According to Guskiewicz, "The findings could help trainers coach players on how to better position their body to absorb a hit."
The information could lead to better equipment as well.
"We know that this data is going to help us develop better football helmets in the future," said Thad Ide, Vice president of research and development at Riddell, a manufacturer of sporting equipments.