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Orthopedics Researchers Study the Resilient Skulls of Woodpeckers

Posted by floriza in Orthopedics

A study conducted at Beihang University in Beijing, China (by bioengineers rather than orthopedics researchers) seeks to find out what makes the skulls of woodpeckers so resilient. The birds hit their bills against trees at a very fast speed without suffering brain damage.

Orthopedists see thousands of concussion cases every year, and researchers are constantly trying to cut down on these brain injuries. In the study, the researchers took photographs with high-speed cameras to determine exactly how the birds move their heads while pecking at trees, as well as the anatomy of the woodpeckers’ skulls. This was done through CT scans and computer images from the photographs that were turned into three-dimensional images. The hope is that equipment might be constructed using the data from the study to help athletes avoid concussions in the future.

Could Woodpecker Data Help Orthopedists Design Helmets?

Researchers say that the woodpecker skulls have evolved with layers that protect the birds’ brains from impact. Considering the differences in the anatomy of human beings and woodpeckers, however, equipment will not be easy to construct.

First of all, part of the reason for the woodpeckers’ ability to withstand force has to do with the anatomy of their beaks. Secondly, the movement that causes a concussion in a human being happens within the skull. Therefore, holding the skull in place from the outside of the body will not prevent this movement if the head sustains an impact.

Woodpeckers also have a special bone that operates similar to a seatbelt, keeping the brain from moving within the skull. People do not possess such a bone. The researchers hope that a helmet could be constructed that would replicate this “seatbelt” effect. The helmets would have to be lightweight, of course, or they would not be practical during sports events. Some physicians are skeptical that a seatbelt apparatus in a helmet would be capable of preventing the brain from bouncing within the skull since the helmet would only keep the head stationary.

Still, the data obtained from the study may prove useful to helmet designers. While such a helmet might not eliminate concussions, it might reduce the frequency of visits to orthopedists in New Jersey and other states.

The study results were published in Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

What is a Concussion?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a concussion as “a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.” As the human brain is quite vulnerable to concussion, even what may seem like a minor bump can actually be serious.

 

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