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Monday 5 September 2016

Could a buff neck really prevent concussion?

Performing simple neck-strengthening exercises might reduce the risk of acute head trauma and concussion, according to a study by Southampton Solent University researchers.

James Fisher, senior lecturer in sports conditioning and fitness, and course leader for BSc (Hons) Fitness and Personal Training at the University, worked with legendary ex-National Football League (NFL) strength training coach Mark Asanovich in Minnesota. They also suggest that strengthening the muscles of the neck might support a reduction in the prevalence of degenerative brain conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) occurring as a result of repetitive head trauma.

CTE is a degenerative disease caused by frequent concussive and sub-concussive trauma to the head, which athletes playing multiple sports can commonly experience. It can cause progressive dementia, memory loss and poor judgement as well as deafness and impeded speech.

James says: “A growing body of research is suggesting that strength is linked to reduced all-cause mortality – stronger people are harder to kill. Furthermore, we train other muscles for improved quality of life or enhanced sports performance but a stronger neck appears to dissipate accelerative forces applied to the head – athletes of all ages need to be better prepared to withstand the impacts in their sport.

“National governing bodies of sports are strongly promoting concussion awareness but they only serve to highlight that a potential injury has occurred. Strengthening the neck muscles might reduce the risk of injury to begin with.”

James Fisher

The study reported dramatic strength increases following a minimalist approach of exercising just twice a week, using only four exercises, for just a single set each; flexion (tipping your chin to your chest), extension (pushing your head back), and lateral flexion (moving your head from ear to shoulder). This was combined with a mixture of manual resistance and resistance machines in a slow and controlled movement. However, the exercises should be performed to a high degree of effort to attain strength increases.

James, who plans to further research neck strength in relation to concussion, adds: “Earlier this year, the film Concussion was released starring Will Smith and it highlighted the prevalence of degenerative brain conditions such as CTE in retired American football players. We have the same concussion risks in rugby and other sports. More needs to be done to train youngsters to protect their bodies while perfecting their performance.

“For those not playing sports, imagine a whiplash injury in a car – we are all potentially susceptible to head and neck trauma and this might reduce risks of concussion or severity following any injury.”