The number and magnitude of head impacts have been assessed in-vivo using inertial sensors to characterise the exposure in various sports and to help understand their potential relationship to concussion.
We aimed to provide a comprehensive review of the field of in-vivo sensor acceleration event research in sports via the summary of data collection and processing methods, population demographics and factors contributing to an athlete’s exposure to sensor acceleration events.
The systematic search resulted in 185 cohort or cross-sectional studies that recorded sensor acceleration events in-vivo during sport participation.
Approximately 5800 participants were studied in 20 sports using 18 devices that included instrumented helmets, headbands, skin patches, mouthguards and earplugs. Female and youth participants were under-represented and ambiguous results were reported for these populations. The number and magnitude of sensor acceleration events were affected by a variety of contributing factors, suggesting sport-specific analyses are needed. For collision sports, being male, being older, and playing in a game (as opposed to a practice), all contributed to being exposed to more sensor acceleration events.
Several issues were identified across the various sensor technologies, and efforts should focus on harmonising research methods and improving the accuracy of kinematic measurements and impact classification. While the research is more mature for high-school and collegiate male American football players, it is still in its early stages in many other sports and for female and youth populations. The information reported in the summarised work has improved our understanding of the exposure to sport-related head impacts and has enabled the development of prevention strategies, such as rule changes.
Head impact research can help improve our understanding of the acute and chronic effects of head impacts on neurological impairments and brain injury. The field is still growing in many sports, but technological improvements and standardisation of processes are needed.