Research In Action

Research In Action

A Level Playing Field For Use of Head Kinematic Sensors
November 22, 2022

Technology is ever-present in our society and plays a vital role in the injury prevention world. One area where we have seen an explosion of available technology is head kinematic sensors – accelerometers and gyroscopes that are attached to helmets, the skin, on mouthguards, and in ears of athletes – to measure the acceleration their head experiences during play. Measuring how the head moves during live sport can drive important interventions that lower head impact exposure, such as equipment improvements, and changes to the rules of the game or techniques used by athletes.

Technological advances have made implementation of this technology ever more feasible for researchers. Parents, coaches, and leagues are also intrigued about the value such sensors can bring to their overall efforts to reduce head injury risk for their athletes.

As more head kinematics sensors hit the market and are used in research, concerns have been raised about their accuracy and the methods used to process and analyze the data generated. To address these concerns, we formed the Consensus Head Acceleration Measurement Practices (CHAMP) group, which I had the pleasure of leading, to develop and recommend best practices for the collection, analysis, and reporting of head acceleration measurement data in sport. 

CHAMP Proceedings

The group prioritized six areas of focus:

  1. Study design and statistical analysis in studies of head acceleration measurement
  2. Laboratory validation of wearable head kinematic devices
  3. On-field validation and use of wearable head kinematic devices
  4. Video analysis of head acceleration events
  5. Physical reconstruction of head acceleration events
  6. Computational modeling of head acceleration events

Work groups for each focus area were led by experts in the field. In addition to myself, my CIRP colleagues - Declan Patton PhD and Colin Huber PhD (during his time as a CIRP PhD candidate) - served on several of the workgroups. Together, the workgroups drafted a series of papers including consensus statements outlining currently recommended best practices for many aspects of head acceleration measurement.

CHAMP workgroups and key stakeholders convened both in-person and virtually at a consensus conference hosted by CIRP in Philadelphia on March 24-25, 2022.  All attendees participated in an open scientific discussion of the key concepts and then formally voted on each consensus statement. Over 60 people from 40+ organizations including academia, industry and government provided diverse perspectives on the precise wording of the consensus statements. In addition, the CHAMP group generated reporting checklists aligned with the technical manuscripts that provide elements necessary for transparent reporting in peer-reviewed literature for studies using these methods.

Consensus Recommendations from CHAMP

The final papers and consensus statements were published in a recently released special issue of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. Links to the papers and reporting checklists can be found here. We encourage fellow researchers to use these reporting checklists as they plan, implement and report on studies using head kinematic sensors. Raising the rigor of this field of science results in better outcomes for our athletes as the data upon which interventions are based are more robust.

Guidelines in Action at CHOP

Research focusing on measuring youth athletes’ head impact exposure here at the Minds Matter Concussion Program already utilizes many of these guidelines. Specifically, we used detailed video review and time windowing to confirm head acceleration events recorded by sensors in studies at the high school level across a variety of sports. Read more about this body of work.

We have a particular interest in understanding differences between boys’ and girls’ sports to ensure that injury mitigation efforts extend to our female athletes as well. We also paired head kinematic measures with objective measures of neurophysiology to study the effect of head impact exposure on brain function. Studies such as these, using the rigorous methods outlined by CHAMP, will advance our knowledge of how our youth can participate in sports safely.