Neck Strengthening For A Healthy Brain – Reducing Brain Trauma By Strengthening Your Neck
In contact sports, impacts to the head are common. Now we are more aware of the increasing effects of impacts to the head that are just below the level of concussion, or subconcussive impacts, especially in adolescent athletes. This not only has implications for sports, but for injuries that involve the neck as well, like whiplash. There is a relationship between neck strength and concussion. Therefore, you don’t need to be an athlete to do neck strengthening for a healthy brain, and the right equipment makes it easier than ever.
A 2014 study in Pediatric Exercise Science tested multi-directional heading in soccer players. They found a significant relationship between between header acceleration and neck strength, finding that greater impacts were sustained by those who had weaker necks. This also explains why girls are at greater risk than boys. The authors of the study suggested neck strengthening could be an important part of any head injury reduction/prevention program.
Think of a term that is becoming more common – repetitive injuries. We see this in working conditions that can result in conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain. Now we can begin to understand how low levels of repetitive head injuries as seen in sports like soccer, boxing, football, martial arts, hockey and others can result in symptoms which are not necessarily evident at the time, but may accumulate over time to produce cognitive or brain dysfunction symptoms later in life.
Neck Strengthening For A Healthy Brain
When you consider many millions of young athletes in organized sports, even a tiny percent of these injuries may cause millions of individuals that are affected. An overview of the literature in a 2006 edition of The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, it is estimated almost 4 million mild type traumatic brain injuries occur each year in the United States alone. This figure may even be underestimated because of underdiagnoses and under reporting. This is a disturbing figure as outlined in a 2011 paper in Clinics in Sports Medicine that subclinical concussions (below the level of concussion symptoms) from head impacts can be associated with long term degeneration of brain tissue.
It makes sense to institute programs for reducing concussions or repetitive low level brain trauma with neck strengthening. It is simple to do and may have significant benefits for the health of our society. Just consider that minor head injuries from contact may happen may times during a game of soccer or football, not to mention an entire season, or career. The injuries also may include harmful whiplash forces that can cause the brain suffer from a snapping like force of the head suddenly accelerated backward and/or forward. We know these injuries also can do damage to the neck, especially side impacts.
The relationship between neck muscle strength and brain health indicates that strengthening the neck muscles may help reduce potential cerebral damage resulting in neurocognitive deficits
A 2007 study in Neurosurgery found that neck strength has an influence on head injury and may explain concussion risks in children, women, young atheletes as well as professionals. The study indicates the negative effects of rotational head acceleration in concussion injuries. A 2011 article in Clinics In Sports Medicine encourages neck strengthening exercises to help reduce concussions in sports. Regarding football, the authors state; “Therefore, rule changes mandating neck strength training, education about proper tackling form including prohibiting spearing, and monitoring player fatigue is warranted.”
A critical literature review in the 2009 British Journal of Sports Medicine indicates females may experience significantly more deficits after sustaining a concussion brain trauma. We know that women have more neck pain than men, and one of the reasons proposed is the weaker nature of neck muscles. A 2007 study in the Journal of Athletic Training indicates in high school and college sports played by both girls and boys, like soccer, girls have a higher rate of concussion injuries than boys. It would not be difficult to institute a program for reducing sports related concussions with neck strengthening, especially for high risk groups like high school and college age female soccer players.
A 2013 study in Sports Health found that repeated subclinical effects of soccer heading may be compounded over time. Greater head accelerations of the head are linked to brain injuries that can result in neurological deficits. The authors found neck muscles help to both stabilize and reduce acceleration of the head during impact and may help to prevent brain injury. The study found balanced strength in neck extensors and flexors reduced head acceleration during low velocity heading in college soccer players and may reduce cumulative injury.
Future studies may shed light on the link between long term low level head impacts and health complications, like early onset dementia, premature Alzheimer’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and dyslexia. It very well may indicate that neck strengthening can benefit the brain and help prevent some of these conditions.
The authors of the 2014 Pediatric Exercise Science study noted above state, “Based on our findings, we propose that neck strengthening should be an important component of any head injury prevention/reduction program, especially in sports where head impacts are commonplace, such as soccer. This may be most important in the early stages of development (i.e., adolescence), when strength may not be fully developed and technique has not yet been honed by years of practice.”
The literature findings are consistent with reducing sports related concussions and injuries from low force repeated impacts that effect the brain with neck strengthening.
For additional information related to concussions in sports, a great resource is the NCAA Concussion Website.