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Experts in Sport: Instrumented Mouthguards and Concussion in Rugby Union

After Scotland hooker George Turner became the first player taken off the pitch due to a collision identified by a ‘smart mouthguard’ during the Six Nations Rugby, the validity and applicability of this technology is up for discussion among sports fans and academics alike.

In this episode of the Experts in Sport podcast, host Dr Stuart McErlain-Naylor is joined by Dr Enora Le Flao, Dr Elisabeth Williams, and David Powell to discuss the use of ‘smart mouthguards’ in contact sports, focusing on the recent use of technology to identify potential concussions pitch-side.

Guests consider the technological advancements that have allowed for more accurate measurement of impact and the effectiveness of HIA (Head Injury Assessment) protocols. Conversations around research of instrumented mouthguards hint at the expansion of the technology into other sports, using rugby as a pilot sport.

Topics discussed include the recent news of World Rugby mandating the use of instrumented mouthguards for professional teams, changing the landscape of the sport to provide better medical assistance for players involved in and potentially injured by collisions. Comparisons are made between findings of studies on men’s and women’s rugby teams, evaluating potential sex differences alongside experience within the sport.

There is an evident need for an objective tool in a space where concussion identification is subjective. Issues around the biomechanic measurement of human motion are presented, considering holistic assessments as an alternative to produce valid and reliable data.

Dr Enora Le Flao is currently based at Ohio State University in the USA, previously obtaining a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, subsequently specialising in sports-ensured biomechanics. She went on to study a PhD around using head-impact sensors to understand concussions, particularly among boxers.

Dr Elisabeth Williams is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Swansea University, with a background in forensic science and completing a PhD in the biomechanics of crime scene construction. She now studies the biomechanics of head impact in female sports, focusing on the Rugby Union.

David Powell is a PhD student at Swansea University, previously studying a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. His PhD focuses on the usage of mouthguards in university sport and improving the functionality and reliability of these devices.

Listeners of the podcast can subscribe and download the latest episode by visiting iTunes, Spotify, and TuneIn. All subscribers will receive an alert once new episodes are published.

The Experts in Sport podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with external thought leaders to discuss the latest research and hot topics in sport and academia with new episodes launched regularly.