In the US, there are millions of sports-related concussions yearly, and a large percentage go unreported or undiagnosed because many high school, college, and professional athletes do not report them. Balance tests are the primary method to detect concussion. However, the current means of scoring these tests relies on the skill of athletic trainers to visually determine whether or not a concussion has occurred.
The testing method can be both subjective and inaccurate, and can be skewed to return a concussed athlete to the field. To develop a more accurate method of identifying concussion, researchers at San Diego State University are developing software and an inexpensive balance board device that can measure balance with 99 percent accuracy on the field and in the clinic.
With help from the SDSU College of Engineering and the Zahn Innovation Center, they recently validated the balance tracking system, or B-TrackS, to assess balance before and after potential concussions. The B-TrackS consists of a low-cost balance board and custom software, and gives information on how much a person is swaying, which is an indicator of balance. The sway information is just as accurate as a much more expensive traditional force plate and is fully objective than an experienced trainer.
They’d like to make the technology available to high schools and universities who can not afford a traditional force plate. The improved board works similarly to the current test—athletes stand on the board and conduct a series of movements based on balance control. But, instead of a trainer determining how many missteps occur, the board will measure how much athletes sway, and give objective data determining their condition.
They tested a rugby team to get a baseline reading of their balance using the B-TrackS. If and when the players are later injured during the season, trainers on the team will perform the same test after the injury and compare the scores to see if significant drop-off in balance has occurred. This fall, the SDSU men's soccer and women's water polo teams will also be testing the system.