The National Football League (NFL) has announced the expansion of its collaboration with leading research universities to gather information from on-field head impacts using novel mouthguard sensors. This information will be used to guide injury prevention efforts at the professional and collegiate levels, including rule changes and the development of improved gear such as position-specific helmets. The University of Florida, The University of Georgia, The University of Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt University are joining the program this year. The University of Alabama, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Washington, and University of Wisconsin were the four institutions already a part of the program in 2021. As part of the program, all eight institutions’ football players have the option to voluntarily join the program.
According to the researchers operating the program, sensor-equipped mouthguards will offer a wealth of data on the forces applied to the head during an impact. Concussions in football and head impacts more generally will be better understood and reduced as a result of the knowledge provided. The amount of data gathered for an analysis of even higher quality will expand significantly with the participation of two times as many colleges. The information gathered by the mouthguard sensors will be added to similar information being gathered by four NFL clubs. NFL engineers will continue to review this data to determine the frequency and severity of hits in games and practices. This will then help the development of the league’s strategy for reducing injuries, including interventions involving rules modifications, safety gear, training strategies, and player conduct.
The researchers are working in collaboration with multinational medical device company, Align Technology, to develop the custom-fit sensor-equipped mouthguards. To help in the design of a custom mouthguard, dental specialists scanned participants’ teeth using iTero intraoral scanners, the same medical technology used to scan and plan individuals for Invisalign® clear aligner treatment. To improve its own initiatives to increase player health and safety, each participating NCAA program will get a statistical analysis of player impacts particular to their squad. The data collected by the program will then be provided to NFL’s independent engineering experts at Biacore and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children’s hospital of Philadelphia.
“I’m thrilled to welcome the four new universities into this program, all of which – like the four founding universities – share our commitment to research in service of building a safer, better game,” said Jennifer Langton, Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Innovation at the NFL. “By collecting a larger amount of mouthguard data, we can further our efforts to reduce concussions while also accelerating our broader goal to reduce all head impacts at all levels of the sport.”