Looking at the human body, in particular the head, it’s a wonder we exist at all. Our operations center is basically held in place by small bones and strong neck muscles. The human brain weighs between 3.5-5.5kg or 8-12lbs which does not seem like much until you find a 10lb medicine ball and try to balance it on a pole. Once balanced then strike the ball and then you will be amazed at how our body handles extreme forces. Even more convincing would be hitting the pole or lower and look what happens to the ball, our body is simply amazing.
In order to control your skull – in effect your brain – the neck muscles must be good at detecting even the slightest movements and be able to activate in an instant to compensate for sudden trauma to the head or body. It would stand to reason that increasing the strength of your neck would also help with lowering transitional forces to the head.
There is one little caveat with this example, the brain itself. On average the brain weighs 1.5kg or 3.5-4lbs, which makes up the majority of the weight in our head an it is not attached to anything. That is the crux of the problem; a free-floating organ – our most important – that is susceptible to forces anywhere on the body. This is why helmets cannot claim, nor do they, prevent concussions and it is why even with the strongest neck an unanticipated hit (when neck muscles are not tensed or engaged) can and will result in acceleration of the head. Translated that means high potential for concussion.
Rock Center once again takes a look into the concussion realm with the idea of increasing neck strength; this time focused on the female athlete. The written preview and video as part of the soccer concussion story follow-up;
Doing daily neck strengthening exercises can help protect girls who play collision sports from getting concussions, said Dr. Bob Cantu, a neurosurgeon and leading concussion researcher.
Recent studies show that girls are reporting twice as many concussions as boys in the sports they both play.
Dr. Cantu said that if done regularly and properly, these exercises can help prevent more concussions than any product on the market, according to the scientific evidence to date.
The exercises can be done easily at home – simply by pressing one’s head against one’s hand, in different directions. It can also be done with a partner or even with a band or machine as long as the exercise creates resistance.
“That can make a significant difference in reducing the acceleration the head sees, and in that sense, reducing your chance of having a concussion,” Dr. Cantu said.
Girls who strengthen their necks and then brace for impact when they see a ball or another player coming at them will be more protected than those that don’t, he explained.
Interesting post. You might be interested to read the work by Ryan Tierney’s lab at Temple University. They’ve tested the hypothesis that neck strengthening might be helpful for controlling head acceleration and it doesn’t seem to work (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16404453). They also presented at the NATA conference a few years ago a similar study but with plyometric exercises and that didn’t work either.
I would hope Dr. Cantu would explain his thesis as this research would appear to call into question he recent comments.