Student Well-Being

Stanford Football Players Lend Mouths to Concussion Research

By Bryan Toporek — November 11, 2011 2 min read
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When the Oregon Ducks line up against Andrew Luck and the rest of his Stanford teammates on Saturday, they should be advised that the Cardinal players’ mouths may be lighting up.

That’s because a number of Stanford football players are wearing mouthpieces this season equipped with sensors meant to measure the force of hits to the head, to contribute to a long-term concussion study. (Accelerometers and gyrometers, to be specific, for the science folks out there.)

Two dozen players are wearing the mouthpieces, which transmit real-time data to the sideline about the hits to the head they sustain. This information can help coaches know when a player may need to come out of the game to be examined for a potential concussion.

The researchers are aiming to determine if any positions are more susceptible to concussions, along with what types of collisions between players cause concussions.

“If you go back and look at the four-year career of a collegiate football player, how many hits are they actually receiving? That’s what we want to find out,” said Dr. Dan Garza, the leader of the investigation and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford, to the Associated Press. “And, secondly, is there a threshold for concussions? Or is there at least a zone where we say this is highly likely going to be a concussion? Maybe we can alert players to that ahead of time.”

As luck would have it, the players were more than receptive to wearing the mouthpieces.

“At first, I just wanted to wear it because it lights up and glows in your mouth,” said safety Michael Thomas, one of the players wearing the mouthpieces, to the AP. “I was like, ‘Wow, that looks cool.’ But it’s definitely contributing to something great.”

This study is a first-of-its-kind, as Stanford is the only place in the country where active college football players are wearing these mouthpieces.

Kevin Guskiewicz, recent winner of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, has run studies with accelerometers in players’ helmets, but Dr. Garza notes that a player’s head will shift in a helmet after being hit. The mouthpiece, in theory, will give a more accurate picture of exactly what forces contribute to concussions.

The players were equipped with the mouthpieces at the beginning of this year, so the researchers expect to publish initial findings by the middle of 2012. Next year, the goal is to equip the entire team with the mouthpieces, manufactured by the Seattle-based X2 Impact.

Next year, Stanford will also start equipping their women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams with the mouthpieces as well.

Programming note: Earlier this week, I promised that I’d have a post summarizing five potential changes to youth football in the sake of safety. Well, unfortunately, the Penn State scandal took precedence this week. Check back on Monday for that post, instead.

Photo: In a first-of-its-kind study, about two dozen Stanford players are wearing mouthpieces in games and practices this season equipped with tiny sensors to measure the number and force of head impacts. (Paul Sakuma/AP)


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.