Concussions are a threat for any athlete, particularly those involved in contact sports like football and hockey. After every bone-crushing hit, you're expected to get up and be ready for the next play. However, recent research has found that continuous blows to the head can create problems later in life, highlighting the need to take every one seriously.
Athletes should be free of concussion symptoms before stepping on the field. But without neurological testing and the use of expensive equipment, it’s not always clear whether a player is symptom-free. The University of Maryland and The Ohio State University teamed up to develop a quick and easy way to determine if an athlete is ready for contact post-concussion. Their solution: Wii Fit.
Researchers used the Wii Fit balance board, coupled with a video game, to determine how good a player's balance is when he's completely healthy. If the player takes a hit to the head or is diagnosed with a concussion, the game is used to help him regain alertness and balance, while also measuring rehab progress.
This is accomplished by having the athlete perform three different yoga poses from a Wii program. Balance is measured with eyes open and closed; then the athlete must shift his weight to guide marbles through holes on the screen. When a concussed athlete regains his pre-injury level of performance, he is declared ready to return to the game.
Although simple, affordable and fun, the Wii Fit method requires more testing before it can be recommended for concussion rehab. It’s debatable whether the Wii Fit board is accurate enough to give consistent results. Also, researchers are not certain to what extent balance is a true indicator of brain health.
Concussions should be avoided whenever possible, hopefully negating the need for a rehab program. Wearing proper head protection and using a mouth guard are critical for concussion prevention.
Photo: Toni L. Sandy, The Washington Post