Why Is Neck Strength
So Important ?

Strengthening the Neck Is an Effective Defense Against Concussive Forces and Poor Posture


Connecting The
Head And The Body

The Missing Link

Whether it's from a sudden impact in sports or prolonged use of a computer or smart phone, the neck is subjected to high levels and durations of stress.

These forces can lead to injuries like concussion, whiplash associated disorder (WAD), and an array of cervical injuries and chronic pain. The neck naturally serves as the body's built-in shock absorber and is designed to mitigate these forces.

Once we understand how the neck operates, the mechanisms of injuries, and the threats that exist from on-field competition to the work environment, we can transform the neck from a liability to an asset.

Don't neglect the neck!

The Stress on the Neck

Neck pain has become all too familiar in today's world. Most adults spend eight hours a day sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen in a position the spine is not designed to support.

With the our addiction to smart phones, nearly everyone spends a few hours a day with their heads tilted downward.

The average head weighs about 12 pounds. When we are locked in on these screens, 12 pounds can feel more like 60 pounds, putting tremendous strain on the neck and spine. While improving our behavior and posture would help alleviate much of this force, we often ignore neck strengthening exercises as a proactive solution, and only rely on them as a reaction to symptomatic pain.

The role the neck plays is even more critical in sports where the forces from impacts are significant and can result in more serious cervical injuries and concussions. Whether that force is applied directly to the head or the body, the neck is engaged, and has the capability to reduce the amount of force that reaches the brain.

The Brain's Shock Absorber

Impact of Neck Strength
on Concussions

In 2014, the Journal of Primary Prevention published a study that tracked 6700 high school athletes in boys' and girls' soccer, basketball and lacrosse over a 2.5 year period. Researchers captured anthropometric measurements, concussion incidents and athletic exposure data and found "for every one pound increased in neck strength, odds of concussion decreased by 5%."

Smaller mean neck circumference, smaller mean neck to head circumference ratio, and weaker mean overall neck strength were significantly associated with concussion. (Collins et al 2014)

Note: This study did not incorporate neck strengthening to see how increased neck strength impacts concussion risk. Rather, it looked at the neck size and strength of a large group of high school athletes and retrospectively analyzed that data based on the occurrence of concussions.

Neck Muscles Need to
Contract Quickly              

To help decrease the effective magnitude of a forceful impact, neck muscles need to rapidly contract at the instant that impact occurs. Isotonic neck strengthening alone is not sufficient to enhance the head-neck dynamic restraint mechanism. (Mansell et el 2005)

Stronger muscles are not only capable of generating greater absolute force values, but have a greater cross-sectional area, greater tensile stiffness at a given activation level, and generate torque more rapidly than weaker muscles. Anticipatory cervical muscle activation ("bracing for impact") can reduce the magnitude of the head's kinetic response. (Eckner 2014)

Anticipatory muscle activation plays a dominant role on impact outcomes. Increased neck strength can decrease the time to compress the neck. (Jin at al 2017)

How Neck
Muscles Move

The muscles of the neck are primarily diagonal fibers, which allows for greater range of motion across all three movement planes: Coronal, Sagittal & Transverse.

Working in pairs on the left and right sides of the body, these muscles control the flexion and extension of the head and neck. Working individually, these muscles rotate the head or flex the neck laterally to the left or right. Neck muscles contract to adjust the posture of the head throughout the course of a day and have some of the greatest endurance of any muscles in the body.

Strengthening the neck muscles along all three planes of movement has direct benefits in reducing head acceleration and mitigating forces before they injure the brain.

Coronal Plane: Eccentric lateral flexion to absorb impacts to the side of the head

Sagittal Plane: Eccentric neck flexion to absorb impacts to the front/back of the head

Transverse Plane: Eccentric neck rotation strength to absorb impacts to the jaw

Impact On 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 accelerations and rotational forces."

Dawn Comstock, Colorado School of Public Health

Linear & Rotational Forces

Concussion at a physiological level is caused by rotational and angular forces to the brain, and direct impact to the head is not required. Shear forces disrupt neural membranes, causing fluctuations in the flow of ions and reducing cerebral blood flow. (Giza et al 2014)

Dynamic loads, especially angular acceleration, have been shown to be the common cause of head injury. Rotation, particularly in the coronal plane, appears to most often precipitate loss of consciousness. (Scorza et al 2012)

Female Sport Concussion Rates 2x Male Counterparts

Anatomically, females have longer, thinner necks. Research shows that weaker necks are more prone to whiplash and is believed to be a primary cause of higher rates of concussion in female athletes. (Schallmo et al 2017)

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) 2015-16 study of head injury reports from 750 (99%) of its member schools revealed a disparity in the number of reported head injuries suffered by girls and boys playing the same sport. Soccer, basketball and baseball/ softball are played under nearly identical rules, and in those sports females suffer significantly more concussions than males playing the same or similar sport.

Male Neck Strength
Twice That Of Females

 

Out of the various neck motions, humans are strongest in neck extension, followed by lateral flexion, flexion, and then neck rotation. (Vasavada et al 2001)

"Girls as a group have far weaker necks. That same force delivered to a girl’s head spins it much more because of their neck weakness in comparison to guys…" Girls working to strengthen their necks should remember that they don't produce enough testosterone to build big, bulging necks, but they are going to be stronger and that will help protect them."

- Dr. Robert Cantu MD, Clinical Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Co-Founder CTE Center at the Boston

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