Stamps use high-tech helmet to measure head hits

The Calgary Stampeders are delving into the mystery of concussions with a high-tech helmet.

The Calgary Stampeders are delving into the mystery of concussions with a high-tech helmet.

The inner crown of the headgear is ringed by sensors that measure the number of hits to the head a player takes, what part of the head is contacted and the force of the impact.

Stampeders medical director Pat Clayton then takes the helmet to his office and a scanner reads the data and computer softwear graphs a chart for him.

"The number of hits these guys take in any given game is very high," Clayton said Wednesday. "Offensive linemen average out between 86 and 92. That's a lot of hits to the head.

"Do they result in concussions? Not necessarily, but if they do we'll be able to find out why, where, how much speed was involved in that and how much impact was involved."

This is the fourth season the Stamps have collected information from the IQ Hit helmet and they were the first team in the CFL to do so. Calgary has eight of them now and they cost about $1,000 each, compared to $300 for a standard helmet.

"We've got a very strict no-throw-your-helmet policy here and that's part of the reason why," equipment manager George Hopkins said.

How the information could help in concussion prevention, Clayton isn't sure yet because he's still gathering data. But the helmet can help pinpoint the type of head contact that results in concussions.

"Is there a relationship between where that hit is and a concussion result? That's what we're looking for," he said.

Other teams in the CFL are now using the helmets, Clayton said.

"When the commissioner [Mark Cohon] was made aware of everything we were doing, he was very much in favour of having these helmets available to all teams," Clayton said. "All of the other teams have access to them now either through the league or they have purchased them themselves."

Players with a concussion history are more susceptible to another. Clayton wants to closely track what type of head contact they take. Running back Jon Cornish and defensive lineman Adrian Davis had concussions last season and were wearing IQ Hit helmets at training camp Wednesday.

"I'm going to have them wear them the rest of their career," Hopkins said. "If we identify an individual who has had a history of concussions, it's in his best interests and our best interests to be able to monitor them for the rest of their careers."

Other than a couple of light skin indentations on his head where the sensors make contact with his skull, Cornish says the helmet was comfortable enough.

"When you do get hit on the head first, you're going to feel that first rather than the pad, which is a little bit different," he said. "I'm pretty interested in seeing after a game what hits I took."

Clayton says it was information from the helmet that led to the retirement of former CFL quarterback and Calgary assistant coach Dave Dickenson in 2009.

As a player with a concussion history, Dickenson was wearing the special helmet in 2008 when he got into a game with the Stampeders.

"In Dave's case, the one that caused him his final concussion where we no longer allowed him to play actually happened to the back of the helmet," Clayton said. "The interesting thing was, on the graph, that was one of the lowest impacts, so that's the kind of thing we're following.

"It determined Dave Dickenson's career. It determined he was not going to play anymore because we sat him down and said 'look at this Dave. It was this minor of a hit that caused you this concussion, so it's time for you to coach.'"