Mouthguard technology detects head impacts, making football 'safest it's ever been'

Posted at 11:22 PM, Oct 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-03 00:38:14-04

Doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin are on the leading edge of concussion research, and now a new device is helping make football and other sports even safer.

Local football players are wearing mouthguards that are giving researchers the data they need to make sure head impacts decrease.

"We have these mouthguard sensors that help study the impacts and the force of the hits we receive while we're playing," said Connor Young, lineman for Wisconsin Lutheran College. "If I do get a big hit, it could signal the doctors, the athletic training staff to maybe like go check on this guy. I don't have to worry about having to keep track of all the like symptoms and like making sure I don't get a concussion myself."

Defensive back Tony Orlando has had two documented concussions- one he blacked out. He feels like this mouthguard makes him a smarter player.

"I kind of feel a lot more at ease and more comfortable to play," said Orlando.

Wisconsin Lutheran College is one of a number of Wisconsin schools taking part in a concussion study by Dr. Michael McCrea, who also works with professional athletes.

Dr. McCrea has worked with Dr. Brian Stemper to devleop the mouthguard sensor that can detect even the smallest hits.

"What we're trying to accomplish with the mouthguard research is to characterize head impact exposure in contact sports," said Dr. Stemper. "We want to see how many head impacts athletes sustain, what types of head impacts and how severe those head impacts are."

Information on the hits is relayed to medical and training staff instantaneously to determine if a player needs immediate attention. This is a much different approach than in the past.

"When you think about it, we have literally gone in 20 short years from 'How many fingers am I holding up?' to a set of widely validated, standardized measures that we use to assess athletes on the sideline and in the locker room," said Dr. McCrea. "Return to play after sport-related concussion has gone from 15 minutes to 15 days. That's cut the rate of same season repeat concussions almost in half."

For coaches like Dennis Miller, that's a game changer.

"All of the things that we've been doing over the last few years, and with mouthguards now, in terms of all the concussion things, I think it's made us way more aware of all the situations that we're dealing with," said Miller.

"This game is the safest it's ever been," said Dr. McCrea.