Head Impact Sensor Research

Approximately 1 in 5 high school athletes who plays a contact sport – such as soccer, lacrosse, and American football – suffers a concussion each year. To understand the frequency, magnitude and direction of head impacts that athletes sustain, a wide variety of sensors have been developed to collect head impact biomechanics data, including instrumented helmets, skull caps, headbands, mouth guards and skin patches.

In the Objective Translational Multi-Domain Early Concussion Assessment Study, researchers are deploying head impact sensors to quantify biomechanical load exposure by sport and sex, and relationships between load exposure and neuro-functional metrics. Integrated with other research aims and methods, research using head impact sensors will provide new knowledge regarding high-risk biomechanical settings for the young brain.

Research Projects

Estimating and Measuring Head Impact Exposures

Currently, the Minds Matter research team is analyzing head impact exposures in youth sports using head impact sensors.

Quantifying Head Impact Exposure, Mechanisms and Kinematics Using Instrumented Mouthguards in Female High School Lacrosse

A female high school varsity lacrosse team wore the Stanford Instrumented Mouthguard during competitive games for the 2019 season.  Researchers note the most common head impact site was the side of the head (35.5%), followed by the face/jaw (25.8%), forehead (6.5%), and crown (6.5%). Impacts to the face/jaw region of the head had significantly (p < 0.05) greater peak kinematics compared to other regions of the head. Stick impacts represented over half of the impact sustained and were associated with the highest kinematics. The current study provides initial data regarding the frequency, magnitude and site of impacts sustained in female high school lacrosse. A larger sample size of high quality head impact data in female lacrosse is required to confirm these findings.

Sport- and Gender-Based Differences in Head Impact Exposure and Mechanism in High School Sports

In this study, researchers utilized headband-mounted impact sensors to identify sport and gender differences in high school soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey (girls only). Video review was used to remove false-positive sensor-recorded events. Researchers found that soccer had the highest head impact rates for both genders and boys had significantly higher head impact rates for soccer, basketball, and lacrosse than girls. For girls, basketball had higher impact rates than lacrosse and field hockey. These findings enable opportunities to identify sport-specific strategies to reduce repetitive head impacts and lower risk of head injury in sport.

Principal Investigators: Kristy Arbogast, PhDDeclan Patton, PhD

Funding: Pennsylvania Department of Health; National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health

Protocols for Using Head Impact Sensors

The Minds Matter research team is determining protocols for head impact sensors and helmet-based kinetic measurement systems that yield high quality data for research.

Video Confirmation of Head Impact Sensors

In this study, researchers collected in vivo head impact biomechanics data on youth athletes. They partnered with the Shipley School, where their athletes were already wearing Triax SIM-G headband-mounted impact sensors during sports competition. While the Triax SIM-G had been validated in a laboratory setting, CHOP researchers found that head impact sensors can record a large number of false positive impacts during real game play in high school competitive soccer games. The extra step to video-confirm the sensor data is essential to minimize false positives before using this data for research and in injury prevention strategies for player safety.

Select Review Publication

Head Impact Sensor Studies In Sports: A Systematic Review Of Exposure Confirmation Methods

This 2020 systematic review analyzes the proportion of published head impact sensor data studies that used confirmation methods to reduce false positives. Based on the 168 articles published over the past two decades that met the inclusion criteria, approximately two-thirds did not use video confirmation for all sensor recorded events. The use of video confirmation is critical in removing false positives and identifying accurate head impact exposure.

Principal Investigators: Kristy Arbogast, PhDDeclan Patton, PhD

Funding: Pennsylvania Department of Health

Laboratory Evaluation of Helmet-Based Kinematic Measurement Systems

Validation of a Helmet-Based System to Measure Head Impact Biomechanics in Ice Hockey

Measurement of Hybrid III Head Impact Kinematics Using an Accelerometer and Gyroscope System in Ice Hockey Helmets

This line of research, completed in 2014, used sensor-instrumented helmets to study mild traumatic brain injury or concussion thresholds and mechanisms in ice hockey by observing actual athletes engaged in games and practices. While head impact sensors cannot diagnose mild traumatic brain injury, they measure, calculate and report the severity of the impact to the head and can serve as a second set of eyes for medical professionals by identifying players that need clinical evaluation. This research seeks to validate these sensors’ accuracy and reliability by testing helmets fitted with two different types of sensors. For each sensor, an anthropomorphic test device (ATD), or crash test dummy head and neck, was fitted with a hockey helmet equipped with the sensors and subjected to repeated impacts of multiple intensities and directions. 

Principal Investigators:  Kristy Arbogast, PhD; Declan Patton, PhD

Funding: National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke); Pennsylvania Department of Health; National Science Foundation; and Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies; with additional support from Toyota North America Inc., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and SAFER- the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden

Watch Dr. Kristy Arbogast describe how researchers use smart mouthguard sensors to determine what types of head impacts result in concussion: