Health & Safety

July 26, 2012

Army, NFL collaborate on traumatic brain injury helmet sensors

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 18, 2012) — The National Football League now wants to put into the helmets of its players the same type of sensors used by the Army to evaluate concussive events that could lead to traumatic brain injury.

The Army is working with the National Football League, or NFL, to help the league develop ways to protect football players from traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, in much the same way the service hopes to protect its own Soldiers from those same injuries, said Lt. Col. Frank Lozano, product manager of Soldier protection with Program Executive Office Soldier.

Lozano says there are similarities between the head injuries suffered by football players and those suffered by Soldiers.

“The NFL is very interested in having a similar type of capability that would aid doctors in diagnosing and understanding football players’ experience of concussions and blunt force trauma on the football field so that they can better offer medical aid at the appropriate time to those players,” he said.

Lozano also mentioned the positive relationship between the NFL and the Army, which he illustrated with three C’s: Cooperation, coordination and collaboration. These three goals, he said, are all part of the joint effort between the Army and the NFL to combat TBI.

Officials from the NFL and the Army meet periodically to discuss new ways to prevent and treat TBI, as well as to swap information and treatment tactics, Lozano said.

“A lot of Soldiers are football fans and a lot of football players and teams in the NFL are large supporters of the armed forces,” he said. “So it’s kind of a natural fit.”

The helmet sensors are used to measure the severity of impact to a Soldier’s head after a concussive event, such as an explosion. Later, that data can be collected and used in research to further develop an understanding of the relationship between concussive events and traumatic brain injury.

“In the Department of Defense, there are more than 2,000 documented cases of brain injuries, and of that number 58 percent are Army,” said TBI program manager Stephanie Maxfield Panker. “We have large numbers of Soldiers who are exposed to injuries in the field, training accidents, especially with what the Army does in particular.”

According to Lozano, 45,000 sensor helmets have been ordered, but progress in reducing injury will take time to occur since the program only began in November. At this point, about 10,000 helmets have been introduced to troops in theater.

The program is divided into two steps. The first part is to use the sensors to collect information about the concussive events experienced by Soldiers, the kind of events that can cause possible brain damage, and that may go undetected by doctors or the Soldiers themselves. If a potentially injury-causing concussive event is perceived by the sensor, a report will be sent out to medical authorities so the Soldier can be examined.

“[Screening] is the important part, so we can realize that a Soldier has been through a traumatic event,” Lozano said. “Combat is inherently a traumatic event, and there’s very little way to avoid that. But what we want to be able to do is immediately understand if those traumatic events have been realized or manifested in the state of a concussion. And if that has occurred, then we want to allow the Soldier the right amount of time to heal.”

The second part of the program involves analyzing medical reports and reports made by the sensors and finding correlations between the two in order to ensure that Soldiers are receiving proper diagnosis and care.

“I really can’t say we’re seeing a number change in TBIs, [but] the intent is that over the next couple of years, we would hope that we would see the number of TBI cases drop,” Lozano said.




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