Neck-strengthening exercises may protect athletes from concussions
Researchers from Rutgers University are recommending a new strategy for preventing concussions among athletes who are at particularly high risk for brain injuries, such as football and soccer players.
Based on a comprehensive review of previous studies on brain injuries and neck strength, the team of researchers has concluded that neck-strengthening exercises may be crucial for reducing the risk of brain injuries in sports.
The idea that neck-strength could be a factor in a person’s risk for brain injury has been floating around for several years, with a number of smaller studies suggesting that a person’s neck strength, size, and posture could reduce their risk of injuries. This could potentially explain why female athletes are statistically more at risk for concussions compared to their male counterparts.
Female athletes typically have less neck strength and are at higher risk for concussions with more severe or more numerous symptoms. Based on the findings reported in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, this is not a coincidence. Rather, a weaker neck leaves a person more vulnerable to high-acceleration head movements, as the neck cannot brace or slow the movement in a collision.
With this in mind, the researchers led by assistant professor Allison Brown recommended a number of exercises and strategies to improve neck-strength and reduce the risk of brain injuries.
These include the addition of a thorough cervical spine assessment as part of the pre-season assessment and screening, as well as screening for neck pain issues in young athletes. Once these athletes have been identified, they would be instructed t complete specific exercises to strengthen neck muscles.
“Our ability to detect sports-related concussions has greatly improved, but our ability to prevent concussions and decrease post-injury outcomes remains limited,” says Brown.
“We have identified neck strength, size, and posture as potential factors that reduce risk by lessening the magnitude of force upon impact. Thus, increasing neck strength and possibly size could substantially reduce risk or severity of injury or outcomes.”