Jan 29, 2015
Bulletin Board

Concussions on the Radar

While gait analysis has been shown to be helpful in diagnosing concussions, it often requires a time-consuming process involving special clothing and cameras. But researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) may have discovered a simpler, faster method that uses radar to analyze an athlete’s gait after a suspected concussion.

In their study, presented at the International Society for Optics and Photonics Conference in April, GTRI researchers used a radar gun similar to a police officer’s to analyze the gait of 10 subjects. Each subject was asked to walk four times for 30 seconds: Once normally, once while also reciting the months of the year in reverse order, once while wearing goggles that mimic the effects of a concussion, and once while wearing the goggles and reciting the months of the year in reverse order.

The goggles simulated the physical impairment present in a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent, which is similar to the effects of a concussion. Asking the participants to recite the months backwards was necessary to affect the subjects’ mental performance. “We found that we needed to examine a person’s physical and mental capabilities at the same time to see a change in gait and detect impairment,” GTRI research engineer Kristin Bing said in a press release.

The radar monitored the velocity of the subjects’ heads, torsos, arms, legs, and feet. Researchers found distinct differences between participants when they were walking normally and while impaired. “Healthy individuals demonstrated a more periodic gait with regular and higher velocity foot kicks and faster torso and head movement than impaired individuals when completing a cognitive task,” said GTRI research engineer Jennifer Palmer.

In addition to allowing for quick assessments, the radar analysis can be performed on the sidelines since not much space is needed. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the method for use in diagnosing concussions.

Shouldering the Blame

Although many scientists and surgeons have theorized that a misaligned scapula is to blame for most shoulder injuries, it hasn’t ever been proven–until now. Aided by a collection of cadavers and a grant from Major League Baseball, scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston may be the first to offer solid evidence of the link.

Researchers used a high-speed camera to snap 120 frames per second of various Major League pitchers throwing a ball. The players wore infrared markers on their arms and torsos, allowing researchers to enter millions of pieces of data into a computer program. The computer then directed a scaffold to move the arm of a cadaver in the exact same way. After simulating the effects of pitching through the normal range of motion for a pitcher’s shoulder, researchers then inflicted the cadavers with a variety of injuries, including cartilage tears and misaligned scapulas. This allowed researchers to see how the injuries affect the shoulder, and may help them understand how more serious arm problems can occur.

The scientists discovered that when the shoulder blade was misaligned, there was increased stress on the shoulder joint where the arm and the shoulder meet. The extra stress can limit the rotator cuff’s ability to move, which is vital to overall shoulder mobility.

Baseball pitchers’ repetitive overhead throwing actions can result in the overdevelopment of some muscles and weakening of others–especially those that support the scapula. This makes pitchers more likely to have misaligned scapulas. Researchers hope the data will help them determine prevention techniques and the ideal course of action for rehabilitation from a shoulder injury.

Safety Switch in Field Hockey

In a move toward improved player safety, the NFHS will require the use of protective eyewear for field hockey players beginning this fall. “While serious eye injuries in field hockey are rare, the NFHS Board of Directors has concluded that an eyewear requirement is the right step,” Elliot Hopkins, NFHS Director of Educational Services said in a press release.

All protective eyewear must meet the current ASTM International standard for either polycarbonate-lens goggles or wire cages like those used in girls’ lacrosse. The NCAA allows protective eyewear, but prohibits wire cages–only fiberglass or plastic protective pieces with round edges are permitted.

Though six state associations already require protective eyewear in field hockey, there have been mixed reactions to the announcement. Steve Locke, Chief Executive Officer of USA Field Hockey, questioned whether the rule will cause more injuries than it prevents.

“Lacrosse goggles are not designed for a ‘ground’ orientation, and often their safety apparatus inhibit vision,” he wrote in a weekly Executive Director’s report this spring. “With limited downward vision, it is the presumption that wearing lacrosse-type goggles will cause athletes to bend their heads downward more than normal (so to see the ball better), opening themselves up to collisions with other athletes.”

But several coaches have come out in support of the rule and say they understand why it is necessary. “I suffered a bad eye injury my freshman year in college and I know that goggles would have prevented it,” Beanie Schleicher, Head Coach at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Va., told The Virginian-Pilot.

The team at Norfolk (Va.) Academy has been using eyewear since it was mandated by its conference in 1999. Head Coach Mary Werkheiser told The Pilot that players’ concerns would likely be assuaged quickly. “Some of the issues being raised are the same that I heard over a dozen years ago,” she said. “I think when the dust settles, and the girls learn to adjust to them, it will have no effect on the outcome of the game.”

Carbo Load No More?

For years, endurance athletes have loaded up on food rich in carbohydrates to improve performance. But according to a study appearing in the American College of Sport Medicine (ACSM) journal, protein loading might be a better option.

Researchers in Scotland studied eight endurance-trained cyclists, who each completed two three-week training cycles. During each cycle, cyclists spent one week doing their normal training, one week performing intensified training, and one week doing recovery training. During the intensified and recovery portions, cyclists were given either a high-protein or normal diet. The high-protein diet provided cyclists with three grams of protein per kilogram of body mass–double what those on the normal diet ate.

Results showed that the high-protein diet improved athletes’ endurance performance slightly and reduced stress levels as measured by their responses to a daily questionnaire about how they felt. Those behind the study speculate that amino acids may be at the root of the improvement, although they say more research is needed.

“Previous research has identified tyrosine, an amino acid found in protein, as a mood-booster,” Kevin Tipton, PhD, one of the study researchers, told Medical News Today. “Whereas, we can’t definitively say why the athletes felt a bit better with higher protein intake, it’s possible the availability of tyrosine in our high-protein diet helped diffuse stress, thus contributing to the increase in performance.”

The abstract of the study “Effect of increased dietary protein on tolerance to intensified training” can be found at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20798660.

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