Virtual Reality, a way forward with concussions in hockey?

min - read
Sam Scouller
min - read
If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
With virtual reality, you can control what the brain is seeing
Pro Hockey League in England signs deal with Virtual Reality tech company
Bringing in the technology to youth sports would be a game-changer

Change in tool strategy

A hockey league in the UK has paired with a neurotech company to monitor players’ brain health and better improve the league’s safety regulations using virtual reality technology.

The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) is the UK’s top hockey league and contains teams from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The EIHL announced at the start of last season that it had signed a deal with INCISIV, a neurotechnology company which studies the relations between brain health and player performance.

Before INCISIV brought their VR technology to hockey, the EIHL was reliant on a ‘Sport Concussion Assessment Tool’, also known as a SCAT test. 

CEO and  co-founder of INCISIV, Professor Cathy Craig explained the SCAT test to be a simple pen and paper test in which players were tested with basic exercises and their performances were measured with a number scale. 

Prof. Craig said: “When I saw how they tested players and how they measured behaviour, my first thought was ‘We can do much better.’ With virtual reality, you can control what a person’s brain is seeing. We measure their interactions through the controllers and the data we gather is therefore very accurate. 

Cathy Craig

League Deal across EIHL

“Rather than counting how many times someone wobbled while standing on one leg, we can measure how far they moved, down to the millimetre. We are answering more questions than a paper and pencil test can even ask.”

Prof. Craig explained INCISIV’s process for testing players’ brain health as she said: “Every player creates a baseline at the start of the season by doing two tests and we then take their average score. When players have concussions, they retake the test and we see how far their levels drop.

“One of the tests we run is decision making. The players see balls coming towards them on the set and they have to pop certain ones. This forces the brain to process the information very quickly, which is a skill that concussions affect greatly, current tests just can’t pick up on that.”

She added: “What we have given to teams is confidence in their staff. We don’t make the decisions on their behalf and we don’t diagnose, we just give them data to understand on a more accurate level how severe a player’s injury is and allow them to make the call on whether or not they can play.

“We’re giving the staff confidence to make better and more informed decisions on players’ health. It also helps to give players that confidence because they know that their welfare is being considered and that they are being taken care of.”

EIHL side, the Belfast Giants were the first to welcome INCISIV on board. The Giants’ assistant coach, Jeff Mason brought the tech to Scotland when he signed as head coach of the Dundee Stars.

Shortly after Mason enrolled INCISIV’s help at Dundee, the EIHL signed a deal with the company to allow all teams to use their technology.

EIHL logo

Youth Leagues next?

Craig spoke on the EIHL’s decision to create a deal as she said: “I think it was a very brave decision from the league. The EIHL are completely leading the way and I think that they deserve a lot of credit for showing that leadership because it’s what’s required for difficult topics like this.”

Kirsty Rodgers, a member of the medical staff at the EIHL side, the Glasgow Clan, commented on her experience with INCISIV’s tech and the benefits it has brought to the Clan by saying: “It’s been really quite interesting. It definitely gives us more confidence having the data there with us, it’s another string to our bow and it helps us to do our job better and keep our players safe.

“I think long term, this is going to be very beneficial for the league, the players and the medical staff. 

“This is definitely a step in the right direction, having all this attention to head injury safety and awareness being raised of the steps that need to be taken to ensure the players are safe.”

Head injuries are a serious problem in hockey. Ice Hockey is the sport with the second highest concussion rate in the world. While the EIHL’s decision to use this technology is a solid step in the right direction for the sport, it is going to take a lot more to generate serious change.

As one of the pioneers in early concussion baseline testing and concussion assessment, the founder of Complete Concussions Dr.Cameron Marshall is a vocal leader when it comes to concussion prevention in youth sports.

Dr.Cameron Marshall
" Concussions across youth hockey are growing at a tremendous rate. The prevalence is increasing yet the young players don't have access to the same ressources that the professionals have been using for years."

The health care professional states that kids are relying on dangerously outdated ressources and processes. This issue was clearly addressed last year at the 6th International Conference on Concussion in Sports in Amsterdam, where professionals wholeheartly agreed on a need for a more proactive, holistic and documented strategy when it comes to helping reduce concussions in youth sports.

New technologies, processes and approaches to the concussion problem in contact sports are being introduced across pro hockey. The question then becomes: when do we start providing that same attention to our kids? We buy them fancy expensive equipment that the pros use, but what about what the pros do when it comes to their health?

INCISIV are also looking to get their technology into homes which would allow parents to test their children from a young age. Craig said she is optimistic and thinks that this could be possible even within the next two to three years. When it comes to Complete Concussions vision, they want all of our young hockey players to benefit from the successful prevention, assessment and treament that pro hockey players have access to when it comes to concussions.

Seems like a no-brainer, no pun intended.

Pro Players