Concussion in sport: Cricket Australia looking at sensors in helmets to measure force of hits to head

Andrew WU
Published: October 24, 2016 – 6:36PM

Cricket Australia are looking at installing sensors in helmets to help them gauge the impact of hits to the head as part of measures aimed at increasing the understanding of concussion in the game.

CA are in preliminary talks with several IT companies as they look to develop the technology but though the concept is still in its early stages there could be a finished product in two years, said the organisation’s sports medicine and sports science manager Alex Kountouris.

The development comes after NSW pair Daniel Hughes and Nic Maddinson were both ruled out of domestic matches after hits to the head in a one-day elimination final on Friday. While Hughes missed the final, Maddinson played after passing a concussion test on the eve of the game but suffered delayed symptoms during the match forcing him out of the Blues’ opening Sheffield Shield game this week.

While players, including Test captain Steve Smith, have been very supportive of CA’s introduction of concussion subs this season for the Big Bash and domestic one-day competition, there are no provisions for a concussed player to be replaced during a shield game as it would lose first-class status. If last Friday’s game was a shield match, NSW would have finished the game with only nine fit players.

Kountouris said it was difficult to prevent situations such as Maddinson’s but they were  conducting research to help better predict what type of head knocks led to discussion. Part of this will be the possible introduction of sensors in helmets to measure how hard a player has been struck and transmit the information wirelessly to an app.

“Maybe there’s a cut-off if they adsorb X amount of force, that’s when a concussion comes in,” Kountouris told Fairfax Media.

Kountouris said testing, both in the lab and with players, was required to understand the “complexities” around sensors and the data transmitted.

“How much force goes through when they’re running between wickets, ducking a bouncer, playing a forward defensive – the head’s moving back and forward. We have to understand what the normal forces are.

“There’s a lot to learn but we’ve started to look down that path.

“They’re trialling it in other sports. I don’t know if anyone’s done it well yet. We’re speaking to anyone who wants to speak to us. We haven’t seen anything that will work in cricket right now but we’re certainly looking whatever there is.

“Sensors are small these days,it’s not like a big GPS unit, you can fit them into a helmet and people won’t even know they’re there.”

CA is reviewing footage of every incident where a player is struck on the head, regardless of whether there is concussion, in a bid to find trends. How a player responds on impact – such as whether they collapse, kneel or wobble – is noted and combined with observations of the on-field doctor.

“We put that all together and look for a pattern if a concussion is likely to happen,” Kountouris said.

“It will be better in a year or two – we need to see quite a few of them to see a pattern. Otherwise you see one or two and think that looks a hard knock and resulted in a delayed concussion but five others might have it and not get one.”

Kountouris said the only way to guarantee no player took to the field with delayed symptoms of concussion would be to rule out any player struck but that was impractical.

“We’re going to be leaving people out when they’re not concussed. We need to get that balance right. We want the game to be as safe as possible but we also want to be able to play and not hold people back.”

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