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Getting Ahead of the Game

Missy Fraser headshot

In sports, it is often referred to as a hidden injury. Typically, there are no external signs of wounds; none like those you may see from a sprained ankle or broken arm. It is often difficult for others to understand what the injured person is experiencing, leading to frustration of all parties and sometimes alienation of the injured person. According to the Center for Disease control, across all age groups, experts estimate that there are 1.6 million of these per year. They are sports-related concussions.

For Assistant Professor Missy Fraser in the Department of Health and Human Performance it is a personal mission to uncover more about this hidden injury to help prevent and reduce the risk of concussions. “I myself sustained a life-altering traumatic brain injury in 2010. After that injury, I realized my calling and went back to school to get my Ph.D. to study sports-related concussions.”

Fraser’s primary research interests are concerned with the short- and long-term emotional and behavioral alterations associated with sport participation and sports-related concussions.

To date, the psychological aspects of sports-related concussions are still not well understood and have been under-studied. Fraser is utilizing several metrics in conjunction from various researchers to find a more generalizable predictive model for athletes of all ages.

She collects data on neuropsychological tests and questionnaires, balance, vision, coordination, head impact biomechanics (accelerometers), and video.

The accelerometers allow Fraser to collect new data on how and when sports-related concussions occur. These accelerometers are headbands with embedded sensors that measure the force and duration of impacts, and the speed and direction of players’ head movement. Thus, she is able to use them with athletes from various sports.

“The SIM-G sensors are worn in a headband that goes around your head so that you don’t have to have a helmet, which means we don’t only have to limit our data collection to football and ice hockey. Now we can collect in soccer, track, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, softball, a lot of the other sports that maybe wear some headgear but not necessarily something we can put sensors in,” explains Fraser about the technology.

Another piece of high-tech equipment Fraser and her team use for data collection is the Senpatec Sensory Station, which helps measure visual and sensorimotor skills. “[This one] is really cool, and I’m really excited about it,” shares Fraser. “[With the Senaptec Sensory Station] we’re able to do hand-eye coordination tests. [Athletes are] doing go and no-go tests, which means they’re chasing green dots and/or there’s green and red dots and they hit the green and not the red. So, they’re having to make executive decision-making as well as do it quickly  and accurately.”

Fraser and her team use video recordings of all Texas State athletics’ practices and games to further their data collection and help determine validity.  

Furthermore, Fraser and her team have extra equipment at their disposal at the Biomechanics and Sports Medicine Lab on campus, which they utilize to help gather the additional baseline data needed for their research.

Once all of the data is gathered it will provide useful information for evaluating an injured player’s biomechanics to help find ways athletes can minimize the risk of future injuries.

Fraser’s goal is to develop predictive models indicating which athletes are at greatest risk of injury, and allowing interventions to be made before an injury occurs. This would then improve the short- and long-term quality of life for athletes. Furthermore, Fraser hopes her research can assist coaches or athletic trainers by identifying and implementing safe technique training for at-risk players.

“As a clinical athletic trainer, I have had to care for many athletes who sustained concussions,” says Fraser. “Most of their recoveries followed the expected timeline, and they were able to return to sport safely. Unfortunately, a small number of these athletes either experienced delayed recoveries or were not able to return to sport at all. Helping them work through these injuries was always challenging due to the nature of the injury.” Hopefully, Fraser’s research will aid in keeping athletes safe and healthy, and prevent sports-related concussions as much as possible.