CHOP Recruits Hockey Teams to Help Study Concussions

Jul 9 2013

CHOP Recruits Hockey Teams to Help Study Concussions


To study concussions, Kristy Arbogast, PhD, is using hockey helmets embedded with precision sensors that record impacts.

What really goes on in the heads of teenagers? Generations of parents have asked that question, but researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at CHOP are studying one important aspect of it literally: What happens when a teenager gets a concussion?

A blow to the head, or even elsewhere on the body, can jostle the brain inside the skull.

Whether this impact leads to a brain injury like concussion is determined by factors such as acceleration, rotation and angle. A new CIRP study, funded with grants from the National Science Foundation, the Toyota Motor Corporation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, aims to better understand concussions by embedding sophisticated sensors in the helmets of 13-year-old ice hockey players, wirelessly monitoring every impact during games and clinically assessing the players’ health before, during and after the season.

People commonly associate concussions with sports injuries, but only about 50 percent of concussions occur from sports, according to Kristy Arbogast, PhD, engineering core director at CIRP, who is conducting the study along with Mari Allison, a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate at Penn. There are many opportunities for concussions in everyday life, such as car accidents and falls; however, hockey players are ideal subjects for the study because they are more likely to experience high-impact hits.

Analyzing the data they collect from hockey games and practices will help Arbogast and her team, which includes pediatric sports medicine specialists Christina Master, MD, and Matthew Grady, MD, understand what kinds of impact cause concussion and what factors affect a child’s recovery time. (Master has significant skin in the game: Her son is on one of the hockey teams being studied.) They will also mine the data for ways to prevent, diagnose and manage concussions.

“One of the unique things about concussion — and one of our big challenges — is that it’s not something you can see on an imaging test. You can’t look at it like a broken bone on an x-ray and say it exists or doesn’t exist, or it’s better or not better,” Arbogast says.

Clinical assessment by an expert is crucial to diagnosing concussions. And because children’s brains are still developing, their concussions are different from adults’. Even children at different ages experience concussion differently.

“Ultimately we hope to learn about what leads to concussion and either prevent the injury in the future or accelerate the child’s recovery when it does occur,” says Arbogast, “so they can get back to doing all those things that they were doing before: going to school, playing sports and generally leading active lives.”

From the latest issue of Children’s View.