Concussions are the number 1 injury in the game of rugby. Concussion can occur where an individual experiences an impact to the head, but the reason they’re more common in rugby than almost any other sport is that it isn’t just head impacts that can cause the injury. Rapid changes or direction can cause the brain to press against the skull. So, a tackle that doesn’t involve the head can be just as damaging.
It’s been a contentious subject in rugby for many years, particularly so over the past few years due to the rise in long-term health complications coming to light from retired players.
However, technological advancements are allowing coaches to receive real time head impact data that can help flag when a player may be at risk and pull that player out before a serious head injury occurs.
World leaders in gumshield technology, OPRO, amongst other brands, are building impact sensors into the personalised gumshields worn by players to protect their teeth. This puts the sensors closer to the centre of the skull and because they’re moulded to each individual’s palate, they paint a more accurate picture of the forces involved in each impact. “The mouthguard won’t move independently of the head,” says Anthony Lovat, a former dentist who founded custom gumshield company OPRO in 1998.
As well as movement sensors that can track linear and rotational acceleration, each mouthguard also includes a transmitter to send impact data to the pitch side in real-time.
“That allows us to take a view on whether any of those impacts warrant further investigation,” says Chris Turner, CEO of Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA), which helped develop the mouthguard, and developed a cloud-based platform called PROTECHT to support its use.
Companies like N-Pro focus on headguards specifically to help prevent medical issues arising from forceful collisions. In particular, the makers of the N-Pro headguard claim it can protect rugby players from concussion by reducing ‘G-force’ energy that’s transferred into a player’s head.
Working with Ulster rugby club, the creators developed the product to let players retain peripheral vision and also still be able to hear their teammates, whilst reducing the amount of g-force transferred by up to 75% on other approved helmets on the market.
Companies such as HIT Recognition (which stands for Head Impact Trauma) have been developing similar technology to that found in the gumshield which can be easily placed into helmets in order to track impact levels and give detailed analysis on when a player is at risk of developing a concussion so that they can be pulled out. For many years, team doctors have relied solely on the honesty of players and their own self-assessments of big hits, but of course they just want to go back out there, which creates a problem with unreliable data. Having real-time access to this kind of data takes that subjectivity out of the equation.
If you want to learn more, RugbyPass offer reams of rugby articles and news that focus on the topic.