What is a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function. In most instances, it is caused by a blow to the head. Also, in many instances, there are no external signs of head trauma. Contrary to popular belief, a concussion does not always result in a loss of consciousness. It is very common for an individual that has suffered from a concussion to never lose consciousness.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition seen in individuals that have sustained repeated head trauma, like a concussion. CTE creates the build-up of gray matter on the brain, which essentially is dementia. Players that have suffered repeated concussions are more likely to develop CTE.
From the crimes and death of Aaron Hernandez, to Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu - the first neurologist to acknowledge (and face backlash) and publish his findings about CTE - there’s no way to deny the trauma caused by a blow to the head. In 2016, the NFL paid $1 billion to 20,000 former players, admitting that repeated head trauma from football can lead to brain damage.
How often do Concussions Occur?
According to the University of Pittsburgh's Brain Trauma Research Center, more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S.
More than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high school contact sports.
among college football players, 34 percent have had one concussion and 20 percent have endured multiple concussions.
Estimates show that between four and 20 percent of college and high school football players will sustain a brain injury over the course of one season.
The risk of concussion in football is three to six times higher in players who have had a previous concussion.
The NFL openly-admitted that 281 concussions were suffered by football players in the 2018 football season. This was the hardest-hitting year for concussions, since 2015 (no pun intended).
The Future of Concussion-Safety and Prevention
The NFL and hundreds of other tech and sport start-ups are putting a huge effort is going into making contact sports safer for players.
The Future of Concussions is Safety
As concussions have become more understood, safety has become priority. After the scandals that plagued the NFL nearly caused the collapse their own collapse, the NFL decided to invest in safety.
In 2018, The NFL awarded $150K to three start-up companies determined to make the NFL safer. Over 100 sport-startups competed for that award. The NFL started the Head Health Initiative, a $60 million effort to diagnose and treat head injuries faster and better. The NFL has also invested $200 million in concussion research.
Football test dummies: focus on measuring the impact to the brain, not just the impact on the helmet. This is where most equipment (helmets, primarily) experience a downfall. Solely measuring the forces on the outside of the cranium does not give an accurate measure of the force experienced by the brain during a tackle or a concussion.
Mouth Guards: Mouth guards that measure the impact a player takes are in the works, by one MN start-up company called Prevent Bio-metrics.
Padding: Former player, Shawn Springs, 13-year NFL veteran, started a company, called Windpact, that focuses on create padding for a helmet that utilizes materials to protect players from concussion. Springs was inspired by Safety 1st car-seat brand, that utilizes impact-prevention in their car-seat design. Springs spent two years learning about impact prevention before beginning to develop his product. While still in the beginning stages of development, his idea is promising.
Another example of materials being used to compliment a helmet is the Second Skull. The Second Skull is made from urethane molecules, which creates a breathable, yet firm material – ideal for impact protection.
Helmets: In 2014, Bill Gates attempted to create the first smart-helmet: A helmet equipped with an array of sensors, in a variety of positions, that could measure the force of the impact a football player would encounter. Many attempts have been made to create the perfect helmet. The NFL piloted sensor-equipped helmets in 2013-2014 seasons, but eventually scrapped the program due to inconsistent data.
Still, inventors attempt to create the perfect, safe helmet. The ideal helmet would be created as a one-of-a-kind fit, custom to each player; fitted for their position, head structure and the way their brains each react to linear and angular force. Of course, this requires lots of sensors that can alert players, coaches and officials to a possible concussion.