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New device offers better on-field concussion diagnosis, study shows

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A portable balance machine called BTrackS does a better job of identifying concussions than current protocols, according to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

The balance board was developed by researchers from San Diego State University, who said that it provides fast, objective feedback on an athlete´s balance disruption following a suspected concussion. Results of the study showed that it was around twice as effective as the most widely used balance test for concussion.

Most sports governing bodies in the United States recommend three testing components in a concussion protocol: physical symptoms, cognitive function and balance.

A common way of assessing balance is the BESS (Balance Error Scoring System) test, in which trainers ask athletes to stand in a variety of stances while remaining as still as possible. Trainers then count the number of errors — such as stepping out of stance or removing hands from the hips — to help determine whether the person is likely concussed or not.

Research suggests that the BESS test accurately identifies a concussion about 30% of the time, according to San Diego State University kinesiologist Dann Goble, inventor of BTrackS and first author of the study.

“The problem with the BESS is that it´s really unreliable,” Goble said. “Often you will get different scoring results from different people watching the same athlete go through the protocol.”

Existing alternatives include force plates that track precisely how much a person sways, but most of these devices are either very large, very expensive, or both, the university explained.

Goble has adapted this technology into a balance board about the size of a suitcase that plugs into a computer or laptop, all for under $1,000 (£700).

The device was tested with student athletes competing in sports including football, American football, rugby, lacrosse, basketball and water polo.

Of 25 athletes determined by a team physician to have received concussions, BTrackS detected 16 of them, giving Goble´s technology a success rate of 64% — more than twice that of the BESS test.

“We´d like to have as many sports organisations as possible switch to this better technology,” Goble said.