Could Smart Helmets Revolutionize Kids' Sport?

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As awareness of concussion risk in youth sports has risen, so have prevention measures. Complicating prevention, however, is the fact that head injuries are often easy to hide.

That's where technology should come in, say four authors of an article in the current issue of Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Young athletes, fearful of being benched, often stay on the field without reporting an injury. In football, at least 50 percent of head injuries are not reported, the authors note. But helmets equipped with sensors can alert medical personnel on the sidelines that an athlete has taken a certain number of hits associated with the risk of concussion.

"We typically cannot 'see' a brain injury, and even with increased public and medical awareness about the serious nature of any brain injury, a 'warrior mentality' inspires many athletes to continue to play," write Richard Greenwald, Jeffrey Chu, Jonathan Beckwith and Joseph Crisco.

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The authors, who have an affiliation with the Head Impact Telemetry System, a wireless apparatus that outfits players' helmets with padded sensors, say that the type of technology is not important. And athletes in sports who don't require helmets could use similar technology built into mouthguards or other headgear. It's not much different, the authors say, than limiting the number of pitches thrown in baseball and Little League, a practice that has been around for years.

Identifying the injury is only the first step, the authors note. Smart helmets aren't a diagnostic tool; rather, the technology could help make the connection between an athlete who may have an injury and a medical assessment. When a sensor is triggered, the athlete would need evaluation from a trained professional on-site or a referral for off-site medical evaluation.

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While online courses and other tools are available for coaches and parents, it often remains an athlete's decision whether to report symptoms. Injury identification could be especially important because previous research has shown that repeated injuries over a short window of time can vastly increase the negative impact of concussions.