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Headpulses could help determine return to play

Monitoring brain biometrics can ensure safe return for athletes post-concussion



Brain biometrics could help determine whether an athlete is ready to return to play following a concussion, according to the outcome of a new study. 

Researchers have found that micro movements of the brain – termed ‘headpulses’ – could detect the lasting impacts of a concussion.

Using a custom-designed headset to evaluate headpulse biometrics among 101 amateur male and female Australian Rules Football players in South Australia, researchers identified brain abnormalities in 81 per cent of players inflicted by concussion, signalling sustained injury beyond expected recovery times.

These headpulse alterations lasted 14 days beyond concussion symptoms and were exacerbated by return-to-play or unsupervised physical activity, the research from the University of South Australia with the University of California San Francisco found. 

Current rules from the FA state that players must not return to play for at least six days after a head injury, and World Rugby last year introduced a minimum 12-day stand down period. Twelve days is also the minimum period in Australian Rules, which was the subject of this study. 

Professor Kevin Norton, of the University of South Australia, said that headpulse measures could complement current return-to-play protocols.

“Traumatic brain injury inflicts more than 60million people every year, with a third of these being sports-related,” Prof Norton says.

“While we know that Australia’s sports sector takes concussions seriously – via considered return-to-play protocols – we also know that objective measures of concussion recovery are not fully established.

“In this research, we used headpulses – a normal measure of brain ‘wobble’ aligned with each heartbeat – to assess any changes in frequency resulting from a concussion.

“We discovered that almost all players who received a concussion had a ‘disconnect’ between their symptoms and the headpulse, such that even when the players said they felt good, the headpulse still showed evidence of brain injury.”

While most players felt that they had recovered ten to 14 days after their injury, the research showed that some players took up to four weeks to recover and return to normal headpulse patterns.