Millions of pounds are invested each year in the protection of players from injuries. Analytical systems are created to help identify when a player is likely to be injured, HRV systems monitor how to maximise training whilst minimising injury and products are designed to protect joints against damage.
However, aside from a few relatively low tech products, very little is done to protect against head injury.
The NFL has recently seen a rise in the numbers of ex-players suing due to long term damage from concussions. It is hitting the headlines, yet the only real strides being made are in padding to help protect against it.
Although this is important, in game protection for head injuries is still not at the level that other injury prevention technologies are.
Despite all of the multinational companies investing huge budgets in safety equipment, one of the ideas that has caught the imagination of designers was from Mark Dillon, whilst at university in Dublin.
This device is called the Mamori and it is a gum guard which incorporates sensors in order to monitor impacts that may cause concussions and allow the prevention of second impact syndrome.
Mamori is currently being lauded due to it's inclusion in the shortlist in the 2013 James Dyson Award.
I caught up with Mark to discuss Mamori and the implications that it could have on the future of serious head injury prevention.
Mark tells me that one of the core reasons behind his design is his love of Ice Hockey and one of it's superstars: Sidney Crosby. For those who aren't familiar with ice hockey, Sidney would be the equivalent of Lionel Messi in soccer.
In January 2011 he was concussed during a game against the Washington Capitals and again four days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This resulted in second impact syndrome and he subsequently missed over 60 games.
If the initial concussion had been noticed and treated, this would not have happened.
Mark therefore set out in his final university project, to create something that could help the identification of an initial concussion.
Having initially played with a number of ideas, Mark realised that the majority of concussions in professional sports came from blows to the face and most of these came from blows to the chin. Therefore the idea of having a mouthguard as both a protective and monitoring device came to pass.
Mark placed a series of sensors in the mouthguard that could be calibrated and send a signal to medics to say that the player may be concussed. This would then allow the player to be evaluated on site with the idea that they could be taken from the field of play and potentially save them from any further head injury. Mark has noticed the reason that this may be a necessity is the mentality of most professional athletes. They want to get out and play their chosen sports, injuries are seen as a hindrance to their desire to play as opposed to a long term and threatening health issue.
There is even a culture around this that if a player can get up and carry on then they are to be commended, when as we have seen with Sidney Crosby, this mentality can often lead to long term issues that keep them from playing for an extended period.
Currently in experimentation phase, Mark's dream is to eventually see his technology rolled out across multiple high contact sports throughout the world. The list of sports that could benefit from this technology ranges from american football and rugby through to lacrosse and boxing, each of which creates situations where the chances of concussion are high. The way that Mark sees this happening is through working with national and international organisations, using this product as a necessary protection rather than an additional technology.
In conjunction with this technology, Mark believes that cognitive testing could be improved to help identify concussions quicker, improving the long term health of a player. International guidelines should be created and reviewed in order to improve the identification of concussions and take players away from the action for their own good.
Mark is very pragmatic and realistic in his approach to Mamori but does see that the use of sensor technology could have wider injury prevention uses. One of the areas that he is interested in is neck injuries. This is especially pertinent as often big impacts to the head can cause whiplash and other injuries that affect the neck and back, meaning that a severe concussion can be an indicator of neck problems too.
Much of this could be seen as overly preventative however, Mark makes a point of trying to match practicality and safety. As a sports fan himself he realises the importance of not disturbing a game too much as to take away the spectacle, but at the same time wants to have an injury prevention system in place to allow increased safety.
Overall this product looks like it could revolutionise the way that concussions are viewed globally. With the help of governing bodies and the support of professional teams, this product, thought up by a student during his university course, could forever change the safety and long term health of millions of athletes.