Sports

How mouthguard technology aims to minimise the risk of concussions in rugby

Head traumas have become an increasing issue for contact sport amid legal cases

Salford’s Chris Atkin wearing the innovative mouthguard

As rugby league joins union in preparing to deal with concussion-related legal issues, a tiny sensor in players’ mouthguards could hold the key to preserving both codes’ futures.

News emerged this week that 10 league players, including former Great Britain scrum-half Bobbie Goulding, are planning to sue for negligence against the RFL over their failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.

It follows a group from the 15-man code initiating the same procedure at the end of last year, after a host of players began showing symptoms associated with neurological complications.

Both codes have been aware of potential action for a number of years, following high profile cases in America’s NFL. And the move to minimise the risk for players in league and union has seen the development of mouthguards that can measure the impact of collisions during matches to aid medical staff.



The mouthguards work with tiny sensors fitted inside them




Sports and Wellbeing Analytics was founded in 2016 and launched their Protecht mouthguards, which have been used by Super League clubs Salford, St Helens and Toronto Wolfpack, and union Premiership sides Harlequins and Gloucester.

A sensor can measure the linear and rotational movement of the head after each collision, which is then relayed in real time to medical staff using laptops on the touchline.

“We’re not a medical tool – we’re not telling them ‘this player is concussed’,” SWA chief executive Chris Turner explained.

“What we’re telling them is that this has happened to that player, and they can look back over time for cumulative impacts.

“The sideline can determine what they want to do with the player and whether they want to assess them. We’re collecting and sharing that data to help them.



Salford winger Ken Sio sporting Protecht’s mouthguard this season
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Image:

Steve McCormick/Salford RL)




“We thought that if we could monitor a player in real time and see what’s going on with that player as it happens, we could use that information to intervene in that situation immediately.”

The data also allows clubs to specifically tailor training for individual players, based on how many collisions they have been involved in.

Turner added: “We can look at players’ loads and impacts during a game, compare it to the average week, and amend training accordingly.

“It has a huge impact on the way players train – and you get fresher players, more available players and lower injury rates.

“We’re confident it can help in making the sports safer. Because we can combine the benefits of performance and welfare in a single tool, we can help the players be better prepared and less prone to injuries.”




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