Neck Strength May Prevent Concussions

by Dave Heidloff | 7 Comments

Neck Strength May Prevent Concussions

We’ve now seen every state in the U.S. pass legislation to enforce higher standards for concussion education and management of concussed athletes. However, one concussion topic continues to take a back seat: prevention. Hoping to bring concussion prevention to the forefront, a growing number of doctors, athletic trainers, and researchers are bringing attention to the idea of strengthening the muscles of the neck as a method of reducing the number of concussions in student athletes.

In order to understand how neck strengthening may help prevent a concussion, it is important to first understand how concussions are sustained. While a direct blow to the head is what first comes to mind when thinking of how a concussion occurs, many are actually the result of a sudden change in direction of the head. This happens most commonly in athletes when a hit to the body results in whiplash or a sudden rotation of the head, causing the brain to violently shift within the skull. Helmets and rules of tackling have helped prevent concussions from direct hits, but there is little that can be done to limit the internal forces at work during a sudden change in direction.

This is where several experts feel that training an athlete’s neck musculature could help protect the brain from injury. Some have theorized that the muscles surrounding the neck can be the first line of defense, slowing down dangerous changes in direction of the head. Stronger neck muscles and stability would potentially assist in keeping the heads of falling players from striking the ground. By slowing down the head, the muscles of the neck act as shock absorbers, reducing the transmission of forces to the head and decreasing the risk of an injury to the brain. Current research on the topic is limited, but some recent studies seem to support the theory.  A bevy of research is currently underway to help determine if there is truly a relationship between neck strength and concussion rates.

A typical neck strengthening routine would be designed by an athletic trainer or reputable strength and conditioning coach to address each athlete’s individual weaknesses and imbalances. A comprehensive neck strengthening program can be completed in as little as 5 minutes a day, 2-3 days a week. While some programs could be designed to utilize specialized neck strengthening machines, many exercises can be done in a more affordable way by resistance bands or through hands-on manual resistance.

While increasing the strength of the muscles in one’s neck doesn’t guarantee a concussion-free season, the theory that it can contribute to a safer season has merit. If neck strengthening to prevent concussions is of interest to you, I would encourage you to reach out to a certified athletic trainer or reputable strength and conditioning coach to design a program that is appropriate for you and your goals.

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7 Comments

  1. Adam

    No one who is serious about combat sports neglects the neck…gotta be able to take a hit. Same is true with football too.

  2. Dave Heidloff

    @Adam – Thanks for the comment! I think you’re definitely right about how seriously some take neck-specific strength training when it comes to higher level competition combat sports. Now I’m hoping we can get some people talking about neck strengthening at the lower levels (high school and even college). Seeing some of the strengthening programs firsthand, I can attest to many putting a heavy emphasis on building power and strength to deliver hits, but not much emphasis on building up “armor” for taking hits.

  3. Colin R

    Good topic, neck strength is a very crucial area when it comes to wrestling and MMA as well. Your article makes perfect sense to me. While scientists can debate against it’s correlation you cannot help but logically think about it and tell me that it’s not related.

    I think football may be tough to study and accurately evaluate this correlation due to so many unknown factors:force of a hit, velocity of a hit, the direction from where it is coming from, etc. etc.

    Good topic

  4. Patrick Houlahan

    Great Article. I played football through college, Rugby for 20 years, and I fly fighter jets for the Marine Corps. Most of the concussions I was aware of often occured not from an initial hit, but from the body hitting the ground and the head boucing off the turf. I believe in the theory that a stronger neck and one that is exercised in all ROM (especially in the diagnols), could help reduce this type of injury. Please take a look at our device (www.NeckXSystems.com) as a convenient way to work out the neck and build neck strength.

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