Could a device the size of a euro coin radically improve concussion identification?

That’s what New Zealand based CSX hope for.

Ed Lodge speaking at yesterday's Sports Summit.
Ed Lodge speaking at yesterday's Sports Summit.
Image: Web Summit

A DEVICE THAT sits just behind the ear and is the size of a euro coin could one day help save the lives of sportspeople around the world.

That’s the hope for a new micro-sensor designed to measure – in real time – the size and number of impacts on a rugby field in an effort to determine whether or not a player has suffered a potentially dangerous concussion.

Speaking yesterday at the 2014 Web Summit, Ed Lodge, the chief executive of CSX – the New Zealand company behind the device – said that while no technology can diagnose a concussion, their sensor will alert the medical team on the sideline that an impact which can potentially cause a concussion has occurred.

This, he says, should trigger standard concussion protocols in rugby.

“By doing it in the app, and using our cloud based system, you can immediately compare baseline symptoms to current symptoms. That comparison will enable doctors to say whether a player should come off or whether they should play on.

“The main thing is that our sensor is not going to diagnose a concussion, a person still needs to do that, because it’s very hard at the moment to tell if a person has a concussion.

“What our sensor does is send all the impacts and accelerations that the head has had so that gives us the ability to see exactly the movement of the head and that can be added into the clinical decision making of the medical team.

“With the bigger impacts, if a player gets up and is staggering around, it’s fairly easy to tell if they’ve a concussion or not. But with rugby players getting faster and bigger there are many different types of hits, a lot of checks, shoulder glances and players are not sure if they’re concussed either.

“On those knocks, the data going straight to the sideline allows us to tell if an assessment needs to do done or not.”

Sensor The size of the sensor Source: CSX

Lodge, a former rugby physio, says the reason his company developed the technology was because previous attempts – such as headgear – didn’t work.

“Over the last three years we’ve been looking for solutions to this problem which is globally costing about $12 billion and, really, it’s probably larger than that because there is a lot of under-reporting of concussion.

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“What we’re looking for is a sign or a symptom that someone is not behaving normally. Sometimes it’s players becoming argumentative, stumbling on their feet, etc.

“But how a concussion comes about is either through a very big forward movement of the brain – where the head moves forward and then back – or a very big rotation and that means the brain slams on one side of the skull and then comes back and hits the other.

“What we’ve found through developing this technology is that it’s combination of the linear and rotational is what leads to players getting concussed.”

CSX is currently focusing on rugby because it’s a full contact sport but also because of how players have developed over the last decade with half-backs today the same size as locks ten years ago.

“The game has gotten bigger and it’s gotten faster so with that we have to keep players in the game so what we’ve developed is a system that comes in two parts.

“The first part is the sensor which contains a very small microchip and that just sits behind the ear and sends all the data to the sideline. On top of that, we’ve created an app and that’s the key to managing the whole process.”

Lodge explains that before players wear the chip they undergo testing to record baseline results. The chip then measures the severity of head knocks during a match and sends the data to the app.

Real-time results can be compared to initial testing, allowing on-the-spot prevention as well as the creation of long-term profiles which can be tracked at all levels of the game, from provincial level to full internationals.

Lodge also says that, because all the data is stored in the app, players can bring their concussion and impact history with them when they move club or country and have that data available to them throughout their career.

“They can start around age eight – when we start full contact rugby in New Zealand – and keep track of all their concussions throughout their life. That’s all the data from training live games, everything.”

And while Lodge admits that some older players are unwilling to accept the potential effect of concussion on their lives and careers, younger ones have educated themselves on the risks and are, therefore, much less inclined to hide them, which he hopes means his technology is as prevalent as GPS tracking in the future.

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Steve O'Rourke

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