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Validation of an instrumented mouthguard in rugby union-a pilot study comparing impact sensor technology to video analysis.

BACKGROUND: To better understand the biomechanical profile of direct head impacts and the game scenarios in which they occur in Rugby Union, there is a need for an on-field validation of a new instrumented mouthguard (IMG) against the reference standard. This study considers the potential of a combined biomechanical (IMG) and video analysis approach to direct head impact recognition, both of which in isolation have limitations. The aim of this study is to assess the relationship between an instrumented mouthguard and video analysis in detection of direct head impacts in rugby union.

DESIGN: Pilot Study - Observational Cohort design.

METHODS: The instrumented mouthguard was worn by ten (3 backs, 7 forwards) professional Rugby Union players during the 2020-21 Gallagher Premiership (UK) season. Game-day video was synchronized with timestamped head acceleration events captured from the instrumented mouthguard. Direct Head Impacts were recorded in a 2 × 2 contingency table to determine sensitivity. Impact characteristics were also collected for all verified head impacts to further the understanding of head biomechanics during the game.

RESULTS: There were 2018 contact events that were reviewed using video analysis. Of those 655 were categorized as direct head impacts which also correlated with a head acceleration event captured by the IMG. Sensitivity analysis showed an overall sensitivity of 93.6% and a positive predictive value (PPV of 92.4%). When false positives were excluded due to ball out of play, mouthguard removal or handling after a scoring situation or stoppage, PPV was improved (98.3%). Most verified head impacts occurred in and around the ruck contest (31.2%) followed by impacts to the primary tackler (28.4%).

CONCLUSION: This pilot validation study demonstrates that this IMG provides a highly accurate measurement device that could be used to complement video verification in the recognition of on-field direct head impacts. The frequency and magnitude of direct head impacts derived from specific game scenarios has been described and allows for greater recognition of high-risk situations. Further studies with larger sample sizes and in different populations of Rugby Union players are required to develop our understanding of head impact and enable strategies for injury mitigation.

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