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HITIQ technology helping to tackle American football head impacts

HITIQ technology is being used by scientists in the USA to better understand impacts in football. But how will the technology and increased understanding it brings off the field, translate into increased player safety on it?

The story of head impacts leading to health issues is becoming increasingly common. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was first reported in an NFL player back in 2005. Initial thoughts were that the condition was rare, however, in a 2017 study, the condition was reported to be present in 87% and 99% of college and NFL players respectively.

It is statistics like these that drive researchers to look closer at head impacts in order to help protect players. HITIQ is part of that journey. Our technology is being used across contact sports to support scientists, coaches and athletes in gaining greater insight into the type, force, consequence and hopefully mitigation of the impacts that are sustained during play.

A host of different monitoring techniques have been used to assess impacts. Video analysis has been used for years as well as sensors in helmets. However, smart mouthguards have been shown to offer a much more reliable and accurate source of impact data.

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One of the programs already using HITIQ technology to better understand concussion and to protect players is Tulane University. In a recent article in Discover Magazine, Dr Gregory Stewart, co-director of the Sports Concussion Management Program at Tulane, talked about the mouthguards being another tool in helping to understand what happens with impact brain injury.

"They can help us look at run plays, passing plays and certain positions that we need to pay special attention to in terms of head injuries.”

Gregory W. Stewart

Co-director of the Sports Concussion Management Program at the Tulane School of Medicine

Using HITIQ’s mouthguard and its impact classification system, the team at Tulane are able to look at the data in more detail and in a more appropriate and game-specific way. This includes the different impacts that players might experience during particular plays, positions, roles and even how the time on the field might influence affect exposure.

Insight into impact types has already influenced rule changes in American football. In 2018, kickoff rules were changed to reduce the number of high-speed impacts, where incidents leading to concussions were more common than during any other play.

The findings from HITIQ’s mouthguards are now influencing another potential positive change. That of position-specific helmets. This would see a helmet designed with additional support or padding in different areas depending on the nature of the impacts players face most frequently.

HITIQ’s true impact profile (TIP) classification system has also been able to shed light on the concept of the double hit. It’s known that players are at increased risk of a concussion if they sustain two hits within a short space of time. Often, the thinking focused on repeated tackles or collisions in back to back plays. The accuracy of our system has enabled it to show how a hit from a tackle and then, as players land, a second impact as they hit the ground, should be an area of concern.

Without the sensitivity of the HITIQ mouthguard, these hits could easily be recorded as just one, rather than two separate incidents.

Peter Goodin

Head of Data Science, HITIQ

Peter Goodin, HITIQ’s head of data science knows how important this point is. He talks about the time and expertise it took to ensure the system would identify genuine impacts. This included impacts with players, but crucially also impacts with the ground. Without the sensitivity of the HITIQ mouthguard, these hits could easily be recorded as just one, rather than two separate incidents. In fact, as highlighted by the team at Tulane, these double impacts could be the most important to identify in order to keep athletes safe.

It’s this high level of accuracy in terms of impact detection and classification that makes HITIQ such a valuable tool. At the research end, our technology is helping scientists and medics understand the consequences of head impacts. They are then able to suggest and develop protocols, procedures and even drive rule changes to help player safety. Within the sport, the HITIQ system is being used to help players, coaches and medics, measure, manage and mitigate concussion as well as assess impact load to improve player welfare and performance.

Find out more about HITIQ technology.

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