A mild traumatic brain injury, commonly referred to as a concussion, is most commonly defined as a head injury that results in temporary loss of brain function. Concussions have been quite visible in the press over the last decade, after a number of former American football players have come forward to reveal that they had sustained extensive brain damage after suffering numerous undiagnosed concussions. But soccer has a big concussion problem too, especially for youth players whose brains haven’t fully developed.
The current way to deal with concussions is often simple and succinct rather than a full examination, and players are often sent right back on the pitch without being adequately checked. FIFA has tried to come up with a plan to force all head injuries to be thoroughly checked by an independent medical professional before allowing the player back on, but many believe that it’s not enough.
Taylor Twellman, former USA international and current ESPN commentator, ended his career earlier than he had hoped after suffering a sixth concussion while playing for the New England Revolution. After he was punched in the head during a game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Twellman says, “the trainer instead asked him his name, the score of the game and to count backward from 100 before telling him he doesn’t have a concussion and sending him back into the game.” Twellman is now an advocate for concussion prevention and treatment in sports, having started his own foundation, Think Taylor, to raise awareness. It still has a long way to go, but voices like Twellman have managed to get the ball rolling in a few major ways.
A Seattle company called X2 Biosystems recently released something called the xPatch, part of a larger system called X2 Solutions used to monitor head injuries in athletes. The system is already in place in the NFL and NHL in the United States, and Major League Soccer plans to use it in the upcoming season. The xPatch recently gained publicity in the UK after London-based rugby union team Saracens was noted using them in a recent match. Saracens chief executive responded to accusations that x2 was just another gimmick, saying “I don’t want to be visiting these players in 20 or 25 years time in a hospital where they are suffering from dementia or some other neurological condition.”
The X2 system is quite remarkable: the xPatch records and processes all impacts on an athlete’s body and delivers the information directly to coaches and trainers via their app. A large amount of complex and important information is delivered in real-time, so that medical staff can accurately decide if an athlete should continue playing. A cloud database is also part of the X2 system, so that an athlete’s information can be tracked over time in order to prevent long-term brain damage.