Micro-chipped mouthguards to monitor head impacts in rugby players draw on Swansea research

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Micro-chipped mouthguards that monitor head impacts in rugby players, which draw on research by Swansea University researchers, have made their debut in a top-tier game between the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues.

Concussion has been an issue in rugby for many years, with evidence that 85% of players suffer with concussion at some point in their career.

Until now, there has been no objective way to monitor all head impacts, and to measure the magnitude of linear and rotational acceleration force of the head as a result of impact. Medics monitoring player wellbeing currently base their judgement on what they can see

The new mouthguards will help medics make their decisions. They contain microchips which transmit the head impact data of each player immediately to a laptop on the side-lines which can be seen by medical staff.

The new mouthguard is called OPRO+, and the built-in technology that monitors and manages head impact data is called PROTECHT.  It’s a partnership venture between OPRO, the leading provider of technically advanced mouthguards across the globe, and Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA), a Welsh company built by rugby people which has developed the monitoring system over the past two years. 

The PROTECHT system draws on the expertise of biomechanist Dr Elisabeth Williams, physicist Dr Rowan Brown, and their team, who are based in Swansea University’s sports science and engineering departments and who also work with the Ospreys rugby team.

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Dr Liz Williams explained that rigorous academic research is at the heart of the system:

“To us, it was imperative that this system is build on solid scientific foundations and produces reliable, repeatable and valid head impact telemetry data. To this end, we have worked to ensure that the readings we get from these bespoke mouthguards accurately reflect the actual movement of the skull. They are very tightly coupled to the teeth, limiting any soft tissue movement which may affect the readings.

The PROTECHT system has undergone validation testing using highly-calibrated crash test dummies, human laboratory testing here in our biomechanics lab and of course ‘battle testing’ on the rugby field. The system has also undergone safety and emissions standards testing prior to going in anyone’s mouths.”

In a sign of Swansea University’s growing strength in the area of head impact research, Dr Williams’ team will soon be boosted by a fourth member, with more new posts likely to follow. 

SWA Chief Executive Officer Chris Turner said:

“The development of the PROTECHT system has ultimately been focused on one key priority; making the game safer for the players. The system allows objective surveillance so that unseen head impacts are recognised and understood and this data provides a new layer of information on which medical teams can base their judgements. We are excited about this new partnership with OPRO who are the most experienced manufacturers of mouth guards in the world.

“By understanding what impacts a player succumbs to, medics and coaches are far better informed on the physical head health of a player taking the pitch.”

Find out more about sports science at Swansea University