Check Up from the Neck Up
Insights and perspectives on injury prevention, rehabilitation, health and fitness
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to reducing concussions in contact sports. There will always be an inherent risk of injury when you step on the field/court/mat/etc. What can (and must) be done by parents, coaches and athletes themselves is take proactive steps to reduce the risk of a concussion. Here are three things you can do that will reduce this risk.
Proper Technique and Awareness
Heads Up is an NFL sponsored education program that has trained and certified coaches from more than 7,000 youth and high school programs on proper tackling and blocking techniques that put the head and neck in a position less susceptible to injury. Many NFL teams have implemented similar styles of tackling, notably the Seattle Seahawks, who have adopted a rugby-style tackling technique that achieves the same objective of reducing the head and neck’s exposure to more dangerous forces.
These techniques not only put your head in a safer position, but more importantly it keeps your eyes up, allowing you to be more aware of your surroundings. The most dangerous hits are the ones you don’t see coming. The body can’t prepare for an impact it doesn’t see coming.
In 2014 the Journal of Primary Prevention published the results of a 2.5 year study that included 6,700 high school male and female soccer, basketball and lacrosse athletes. The study showed that “for every one pound increase in neck strength, odds of concussion decreased by 5%.” One of the lead researchers in this study, Dawn Comstock, clearly explains the neck’s involvement in reducing concussive forces that reach the brain:
“As the head rocks back and forth, it’s also twisting a little on the brain stem, and it’s those accelerative and rotational forces as the brain is impacting inside the skull that are really what’s causing these concussions. A stronger neck means you’re reducing those accelerative and rotational forces.”
A 2001 study (Vasavada et al) looked at isometric strength in all directions. Rotational strength was shown to be the weakest. This study also revealed that women’s necks are less than half as strong as men’s necks.
A recently published study (Schallmo et al 2017) showed that weaker necks are more prone to whiplash and is believed to be a primary cause of higher rates of concussion in female athletes.
The traditional neck training approaches you see with 4-way neck machines and head harnesses focus primarily on extension, lateral flexion and flexion, without developing rotational strength. Learn more about our approach to developing rotational strength.
Interested in seeing more research on neck training and concussions? Click here to check out a collection of research and news.
Proper Fitting Equipment
The research community is very clear about one thing: helmets do not prevent concussions. Helmets are designed to reduce skull fractures and lacerations and do an incredible job at this. The mechanism of concussion deals with linear and rotational forces on the brain, which is floating in cerebral fluid inside the skull.
While advancements in helmet technology may soon do more to reduce these rotational forces (thanks to NOCSAE approving new helmet standards for rotational force in January), the important factor you can control when it comes to helmets is ensuring it fits properly. Helmets that do not fit well can cause more twisting of the head and increased rotational forces that reach the brain.
Prevention: A Proactive Approach You Can Control
There are a lot of exciting advancements in research and product development around concussion recognition (using VR to diagnose concussion) and we’re learning more about how to more effectively treat concussed individuals (rest isn't always best medicine).
Fewer concussions allows for more focus and attention on the treatment of those who ultimately get concussed. There's no denying that the best solutions are those of prevention.