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Balance Device, Software Devised to Measure Concussion

Dan Goble tests the B-trackS concussion testing system

Dan Goble tests the B-TrackS concussion testing system (Antonio Zaragoza, San Diego State University)

An exercise and nutrition researcher at San Diego State University developed a simple, inexpensive, and reliable system to test athletes for concussion. The balance tracking system, called B-TrackS, is the work of SDSU’s Daniel Goble, and in the process of commercialization, according to a statement from the university.

Testing athletes in contact sports for concussions can be difficult, often due to the fear of being benched that discourages athletes from reporting their symptoms, despite growing evidence that concussions can lead to permanent brain damage. Current methods of testing for concussions, however, rely on judgements of sports trainers, who must visually determine if athletes are able to pass screening tests indicating a potential concussion.

Many of these current tests involve balance, where athletes stand on one foot or with their feet configured heel to toe. Trainers then count the number of errors that occur, such as stumbling, stepping out of place, or removing hand from hip. The trainers then compare the error counts to baseline measures taken at the start of the season.

A technology called force plates is available to provide more reliable measurements when testing balance for concussion. Force plates measure ground reaction forces and biomechanics in human movement, such as gait and balance, but according to Goble, they can cost as much as $10,000, and thus are too expensive for most high schools and colleges.

The B-TrackS system developed by Goble consists of a balance board with sensors and software that measure the amount of sway, an indicator of balance. Athletes stand on the board and go through exercises measuring their balance, but instead of a trainer counting balance errors, the device measures the amount of sway.

Goble says the measures made by B-TrackS are as accurate and reliable as those made with force plates, at a fraction of the cost. With help from the innovation center at SDSU’s engineering school that encourages commercialization of new technologies, Goble validated the B-TrackS system, recording balance scores of athletes before and after concussions.

Results of those validation tests, says Goble, as well as reliability comparisons between B-TrackS and human trainer measurements, will soon be published in The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Goble is also working with the university’s rugby team to test the latest prototype. Rugby is a contact sport, with tackling like football, but played without helmets.

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