Concussions In Football
One of the hot topics in sports medicine the last few years has been concussions. It seems that every where you turn, concussions are being discussed. Many articles and news stories have been run covering all aspects of concussions – testing, treatment, prevention, even the possible limited lifespan of American football as we know it. One idea that has received some mention is the concept of neck strengthening to help prevent concussions. Since football season is underway, I thought that I’d address this topic.
Why is neck strength important?
Almost any type of impact in sports can cause a concussion. These impacts can come from other players, the ground, or even a ball. We usually think that you have to get struck in the head to get a concussion. That’s not entirely true.
Anything that causes a sudden movement of the head can cause the brain to accelerate inside the skull. Of course, after it has accelerated, it strikes the inside of the skull which causes a concussion. Having strong neck muscles can help to limit the dramatic forces that can take place when struck in the head or elsewhere. While not all concussions can be prevented, anything that we can do to keep the head more stable should help to decrease the chance of getting one. Years ago, I was taught that it was important for football players to strengthen the neck to prevent neck injuries. It’s also an important to part of concussion prevention. Some college football programs have placed a renewed emphasis on neck strengthening. Has it helped reduce concussions? Several of these colleges have reported about a 50% decrease in concussions. While these weren’t scientific studies, I think that we should all take note and realize that include neck training in the programs for our teams.
What To Do
So, what should you do to train the neck? You should focus on exercises that work the neck in six directions:
- Lateral Flexion (right & left)
- Rotation (right & left)
These exercises should be done twice per week for 2-3 sets of 10. If you have access to one, you can use a 4-way neck machine for everything except the rotation movements. Other possible methods to complete the exercises include:
- Manual resistance (individual or partner)
- Resistance with a towel (individual or partner)
- Resistance with an exercise band (individual or partner)
- Neck Bridges
While it is important to train all of these specific neck motions, you must also train the trapezius muscle. The trapezius helps to extend the neck and can help to add stability if it is strong. The best exercises to use are shrugs and upright rows. These exercises should be included twice per week also. Shrugs can be done for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps. I usually keep upright rows to 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
One more thing that can be done is to add in some perturbation movements. Many times in football, an athlete doesn’t see a block or hit in time to prepare his body for the impact. These movements can help improve neck stability during these unseen impacts. To do perturbations, have an athlete in a seated position with their eyes closed. Their neck should be held in a neutral position. Have their partner suddenly but gently push their head in random directions. The athlete should respond to the push by attempting to stop the head motion using their neck muscles. I would suggest doing one set of 20 repetitions.
I have always believed in training the neck to prevent neck injuries. With the rash of concussions that seem to be happening in football, it has become even more important to train these muscles. Make sure to find time in your program to include these exercises. I know, none of us ever have enough time to fit everything in our strength programs. Now there’s one more thing to include? Just remember, while it may be important to do the bench, squat, clean, etc, there is nothing more important than preventing potential injuries. Make neck strengthening a priority in your program.
P.S. While the info in this post was related to football, it applies to many other sports also. The same program can be used for athletes that play soccer, lacrosse, and many other sports. It can be especially vital for females to strengthen their necks. Experts in concussions have begun recommending neck strengthening for females after realizing that they tend to have less neck strength than males.