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‘A lack of data’: B.C.-based concussion research diving into world of women’s hockey

UBC research will be among the first to explore head injuries for women’s athletes
A study led by the University of British Columbia will see local men’s and women’s hockey players wear high-tech mouthguards for concussion research. (Photo: UBC Twitter)

A newly-launched study at a B.C. university is taking concussion research to a place it’s never been before — the world of women’s hockey.

Players from the school’s teams will start wearing high-tech mouthguards this spring to capture data for University of B.C. researchers who study concussions.

Experts will explore on-ice head injuries in both men’s and women’s hockey.

The women’s game, however, is an area of research that has been understudied, according to Dr. Lyndia Wu, an expert in brain injury biomechanics at UBC’s faculty of applied science.

“There’s a lack of women’s sports data,” she said.

“Given that ice hockey is a high-concussion incident sport, it’s a good idea to expand to this population.”

Wu told Black Press that past research has shown women in sports tend to have a lower tolerance for getting concussed, as well as a longer recovery profile compared to their male counterparts.

Before arriving at UBC, Wu conducted similar research for the football team at Stanford University in California while working on her PhD.

Sports concussion research conducted globally — up until this point — has been primarily allocated to the men’s side of the coin.

But the new B.C.-based study is determined to investigate the differences between men and women hockey players when head injuries are suffered, as well as the potential long-term effects that come along with it.

“There’s been not enough research on female athletes who’ve suffered a sport-related concussion, and so looking at and comparing to male athletes will potentially provide some insight into the sex differences that occur,” said Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, a professor in the school of health and exercise sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Sensors built inside the mouthguards will capture the speed and direction of bodychecks on the ice, with data live-streamed in realtime to a research tablet.

“If anyone has watched women’s hockey at its highest level, they know it’s physical,” said UBC Thunderbirds women’s hockey head coach Graham Thomas.

“The technology in this mouthguard has never been seen before,” Thomas added.

As part of the pending five-year project, players will be given periodic assessment tests that track their brain health over time, based on the data collected through the newly-developed mouthguards.

“Severe hits to the head are what most people are aware of, but even milder hits may have significant effects if they happen multiple times over the years,” said Dr. Alexander Rauscher, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics.

An undisclosed number of players will begin wearing the mouthguards immediately, in time for the Thunderbirds’ upcoming playoff schedule.

Thomas, who recently led the school’s women’s team to a Canada West title, told Black Press that despite some reluctancy from select players, he expects more and more to participate in the research project by next season.

“If we could get more data and be part of future change, then that’s always a good thing.”

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About the Author: Logan Lockhart

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