A preliminary study conducted by researchers funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering might improve the prediction of mild traumatic brain injury, which eventually could lead to reduced risk of future brain damage for athletes and troops, according to a news release.

PT_news-01A 2013 position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine reported 3.8 million concussions occur in the U.S. each year during sports and recreation alone. Most often mTBI affects competitive athletes in contact sports and troops — those with jobs where repeated jolts and impacts can cause the brain to move inside the skull with enough force to cause damage.

However, recent research has shown even those playing noncontact sports such as baseball and amateur athletes are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases that seem consistent with mTBI.

Devices that can measure the force of impact have been implanted in helmets and mouthguards and given to athletes to gather real-time data to predict and prevent brain injury. However, scientists have not yet found a standard of head motion measurements that accurately can predict whether someone has suffered a brain injury, according to the release. Current safety standards use three degrees of freedom — up and down, forward and backward, and left and right — to measure the acceleration of impact and try to predict the amount of head acceleration necessary to cause mTBI.

David Camarillo, PhD, and his team at Stanford University provided 31 collegiate football players, two professional boxers and one professional mixed martial artist with mouthguards that measured six degrees of freedom, which includes rotational movement (roll, pitch and yaw).

This was the first time a study was conducted that included rotational head motion measurements of clinically diagnosed mTBI in the analysis, according to the release. The study allowed researchers to investigate how to best predict the two cases of mTBI in the study data — 518 measured impacts at 19 different athletic events during three years. The researchers gathered a set of preliminary data detailing more exact criteria on the head accelerations required to cause mTBI. Specifically, they found peak strain in the corpus callosum seemed to be the best predictor of mTBI.

“While this is only a small study and further research is necessary, I think that it is an exciting step forward in understanding what needs to be considered to better predict mTBI,” Grace Peng, PhD, NIBIB program director for mathematical modeling and simulation and analysis, said in the release. “The ability to diagnose mTBI at the time of injury could help protect athletes from further brain damage, reducing their risk of neurodegenerative diseases.”

This research was supported in part by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.