Local doctors tackle football concussions

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. - The solution to the concussion issue in football and in other sports just may be inside a Pasco County garage. 

It is there that Dr. John Lloyd and Dr. Joe Gutmann have their lab, where they study brain trauma, trying to find a solution to the concussion epidemic, which has come to the forefront in recent years.  They are researchers with the VA and at USF.  But this project is being done primarily on their own time and on their own dime.

They point out that there are two types of hits -- impact, from a direct hit (like from a boxing jab to the nose), and impulse, which has more of a whipping effect (like in a hook or upper cut).  It is the impulse kinds of hits that cause concussions.  When that whiplash affects a player or soldier's head, tissues inside the brain get twisted, and the subsequent effects on the brain ensue.

They say many of the helmet companies today do a good job of meeting the standards they're required to meet, but that the standards are flawed.  They say the helmets only deal with impact hits, and not the more detrimental impulse ones. 

One solution in football: take the facemask off the helmet.  Others have suggested that, on the notion that players would be less likely to put the crown of their helmets into another's unprotected face.  But Lloyd and Gutmann say it is because the facemask protrudes off the helmet farther than any other piece that it is most likely to allow for a glancing hit to cause a head to whip, and potentially, a concussion.

They have also developed a two-part helmet, which looks the same from the outside, but which allows for more flexibility inside when there is a big hit.  It would, thus, protect the brain more than the current one-piece helmets do.

Their work is not just with prevention, but also with diagnosis and rehabilitation.  In furthering their understanding of when a concussion happens, they've worked with players on the Wharton High School football team.  They put sensors inside the players' helmets, and looked at data to determine objectively when a concussion has happened.  Using that data, they're also able to objectively say when it is okay for a player to return to the field.  Today, that is all subjectively determined.

Their goal now is to sell their idea to leagues and to teams.  But that might be their toughest job yet.  To see their garage lab and their story, click on the video above.

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