New high-tech equipment to monitor and evaluate head injuries of football players will debut at West Mecklenburg High.
Twenty players – roughly the Hawks starters – have an extra horseshoe-shaped pad inside their helmet for today's 7 p.m. home game against Providence. Six pads contain sensors that measure the force of impact that can lead to concussions.
The Department of Sports Medicine & Special Events at Carolinas Medical Center received a $70,000 grant from Kohl's department store, which will fund the helmet project and make concussion-assessment software available to the 18 Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools with sports programs.
The sensors weigh less than two ounces apiece. Each sends a reading to a wireless computer monitor on the sideline. The precise location and degree of head movement in an impact can be measured and analyzed. An athletic trainer and physician will receive data instantly on the sideline.
“I really think this is going to help guide us in concussion management over time,” said Dr. David Price, associate director of the CMC's Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship, who will assist players with concussions during the first few weeks of their injury.
“It's estimated that each team has two to five concussions (per season), but that's probably grossly underestimated.”
Nine West Mecklenburg players, with sensors tucked inside their maroon helmets, demonstrated the helmets at practice Wednesday. Initially, a warning signal on the monitoring system will trigger on any force of 95 G's or more, roughly the equivalent of a 35-mph car wreck.
A hit that hard won't necessarily cause a concussion. And collisions with less force can cause a concussion. The new system allows data to be collected and analyzed – which players are involved in the hardest hits, which players have the most collisions, directions of the collision, etc.
“The technology will help prevent subsequent head injuries by identifying players who experience significant impact, and trigger earlier, more effective specialized treatment,” said Dr. Lori Grafton.
She and Dr. Flora Hammond, both with the Brain Injury Program at Carolinas Rehabilitation, will treat players whose concussion symptoms last more than four weeks.
West Mecklenburg is one of two high schools in the country, and the first in the Southeast, using the sensor technology, said CMS spokesperson Cynthia Robbins.
Several NFL teams and Division I colleges track brain injuries using similar programs.
“I think now we'll have less injuries to heads,” said West Meck receiver Jahmeek Daniels, a junior. “They can pinpoint how hard you got hit, which side you got hit on. So it's a real good thing. You can't even tell it's in there; it feels like a regular helmet.”
Another feature of the project is the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (IMPACT). It determines if an athlete can safely return after suffering a head injury.
IMPACT is a computer-based training program that measures cognitive function in athletes with concussions, including attention span, working memory, non-verbal problem solving and reaction time. The program is open to CMS athletes in all sports.
“More than one million high school athletes play football, and there is very little research being conducted on this population,” Dr. Price said. “This technology is beneficial because it will not only decrease concussion injuries, but will help us manage head injuries in the future.”
Cliff Mehrtens: 704-358-5121
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