Researcher tries to quantify the force of an NFL hit

September 2, 2010 7:15:45 PM PDT
This is the last week of the NFL pre-season, which means the hits are getting harder. ABC7 sports anchor Mike Shuman, who played for the 49ers, once said, "In the NFL, every time you get hit, it's like being in a car wreck." A Stanford doctor is now trying to find out how much force is exchanged in an NFL impact.

In the Sports Medicine building at Stanford University, they do plenty of training, testing, and analyzing. The state of the art technology has advanced to a point where they can quantify human movement and efficiency on an ultra-precise scale.

Now, Dr. Daniel Garza, M.D., is taking it further. He's analyzing the forces of NFL hits. What surprised him was the amount of force.

"You've got two bodies moving quickly and they're absorbing a tremendous amount of force and I don't think I would be able to absorb that and get up," Garza said.

Garza is an orthopedist and also a team doctor for the San Francisco 49ers. A few years ago, Garza took note of a hit on Tampa Bay Quarterback Chris Simms. He stayed in the game because team doctors could not make a proper diagnosis. Ultimately, Simms lost his spleen and almost his life.

In the hope of avoiding such mistakes in the future, Garza has begun to develop a vest with pressure sensors. Some 49ers have already worn it in games.

"I want to wire positions that hit and get hit. I want to know the forces," Garza said.

For now, this research remains in the early stages and Garza cannot say which 49ers he has wired up in a game. He can't even quantify the true intensity of the hits because they are so fast and so hard that the sensors cannot quite measure them yet.

"It's quicker and stronger than we predicted. We cannot quantify it, yet," he said.

The ultimate goal of sports medicine is to keep players healthy and in games, but also to know when they need to come out for their own good.

Garza hopes that in five to 10 years, this technology will bring us to that point.

In the process, he may inadvertently add yet one more statistic to the sports pages -- pounds of force delivered or absorbed.


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