Disrupted Brains – Using Sensors to Monitor Head Impact

From Wired

I’m a doctor, but not that kind of doctor. However, I can still make a model. Apparently the problem with many head injuries is the difference in motion between the skull and the brain. Suppose I replace the brain with some mass and the skull with a box. The brain-mass is connected to the box with springs like this.

Sketches Fall 14 key

Now, what happens when this brain-head is moving and then interacts with something (like another head, or the ground or a ball)? For all of these interactions, a force is applied to the skull – not the brain. However, the brain still has to accelerate at some point. The brain slows down due to this “spring”. Of course, there’s really not a spring, there is some type of brain fluid that probably has a real name and the brain itself gets compressed some too.

Sketches Fall 14 key

This compression of the brain-spring thingy is where you get the damage. Compression is bad.

Head impacts in sports are a serious concern. There is evidence that multiple head injury in genetically sensitive individuals is a precursor to diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease. Sportsmen who suffer head injuries are also at risk of concussion and acute brain injury. Currently, the only way doctors have of measuring the severity of such impacts is on pitchside cognitive testing. This is inaccurate and the recent case of the Belgian Chelsea goalkeeper has reached national headlines. In that case, the goalkeeper was tested at the pitchside and was given the all-clear to continue playing. Then, 15 minutes later, his concussion was so bad he had to be brought off.

The Triax sensors are an interesting and exciting piece of technology to address this problem. The Triax sensors will use motion sensors to calculate head injury severity in terms of the biomechanics of the injury. This is how hard the head was hit and how much acceleration/deceleration the head was subject to. There is good evidence that this will correlate with the severity of underlying brain injury.

Whilst it is early days, the Triax offers, at the very least, a whole wealth of research opportunity. Its other utility may be in allowing safe surveillance of players on the field of play and in training so that small repetitive head injuries could be monitored and acted upon.

Commentary by Dr Oliver Cockerell, Consultant Neurologist

Head impacts in sports are a serious concern. There is evidence that multiple head injury in genetically sensitive individuals is a precursor to diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease. Sportsmen who suffer head injuries are also at risk of concussion and acute brain injury. Currently, the only way doctors have of measuring the severity of such impacts is on pitchside cognitive testing. This is inaccurate and the recent case of the Belgian Chelsea goalkeeper has reached national headlines. In that case, the goalkeeper was tested at the pitchside and was given the all-clear to continue playing. Then, 15 minutes later, his concussion was so bad he had to be brought off.

The Triax sensors are an interesting and exciting piece of technology to address this problem. The Triax sensors will use motion sensors to calculate head injury severity in terms of the biomechanics of the injury. This is how hard the head was hit and how much acceleration/deceleration the head was subject to. There is good evidence that this will correlate with the severity of underlying brain injury.

Whilst it is early days, the Triax offers, at the very least, a whole wealth of research opportunity. Its other utility may be in allowing safe surveillance of players on the field of play and in training so that small repetitive head injuries could be monitored and acted upon.