Preventing Head Injuries For Hockey and Football Players

It seems as though every time you turn on ESPN you hear a report about some athlete in a contact sport having to miss games due to a concussion or other head injury.  I am unsure as to whether head injuries are more prevalent these days or if they are just more publicized.  Regardless, head injuries are a major issue at all levels of sports.  Due to the potential long term ramifications head injuries are of special concern for youth level athletes.  This article will look at some of the recent data on the subject of head injuries in sports and the proven methods to decrease the potential of their occurrence amongst athletes in contact sports like hockey and football.

According to the Center For Disease Control there are anywhere between 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions that occur in sports every year.  The discrepancy between the two numbers is due mostly to the facts that many athletes do not let anyone know about their possible concussions or do not even know that they have one.  Due to the high level of contact, hockey and football are amongst the sports with the highest prevalence of concussions and other head injuries.  A concussion is defined as a complex pathophysiological process they affects the brain and is typically induced by trauma to the head.  Concussions often occur after a direct blow to the head however that is not necessarily always the case.  Sometimes a hit to the torso of an athlete could also cause a concussion due to the violent reverberation effect of the brain in the skull.  Regardless of the mechanism of injury, the results are the same.  The brain starts to swell and begins to lose some of its functional capabilities.  Symptoms could include, but are not limited to, headaches, nausea, irritability, sadness, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances.

Recent research has demonstrated that the age of the athlete may very well play a major impact on his or her potential for head injuries and the severity of the injury if they sustain one.  Typically the younger the athlete the higher potential for head injuries.  According to Dr. Tad Seifert, Director of Norton Healthcare Sports Concussion Program in Louisville, KY, one of the reasons for younger athletes being more susceptible to concussions could be due to their lack of strength and development of the muscles that surround the neck and lower skull region.  There are over 20 muscles that impact the movement and stability of the neck and head.  Due to younger athletes still being in the physical developmental stage of their lives it is common to see them with under developed neck musculature.  When an athlete with weak neck muscles sustains a hit to the head and/or torso there is significant movement to the head and they will experience that reverberation of the brain in the skull causing a concussion.

OK, so now that we know what a concussion is, the anatomical structures that are associated with concussions and what makes an athlete susceptible to concussions it is time to discuss the ways that we can decrease an athletes susceptibility to them.  As I mentioned earlier, there is a direct connection between the strength of the neck muscles and the potential for a concussion.  So it would stand to reason that training and strengthening the musculature around the neck will help decrease concussion potential.  The ability to withstand and absorb forces transmitted through the torso and head is of the utmost importance.  Therefore it is important to use a multitude of exercises that train as many different ranges of motion and angle of the neck muscles as possible.  Special focus should be spent on the development of the muscles on the back part of the neck, cervical spinal extensor muscles, as they have the tendency to be especially weak particularly amongst athletes with structural abnormalities like forward head posture.  At PTS we like to use a combination of isometric (contractions without movement) and isotonic (contractions with movement) exercises.   As with anything periodization of your neck training is important to make sure that you are strengthening as much of musculature as possible.

Head injuries are a serious problem amongst athletes of all ages but are of particular concern for younger athletes.  A well rounded and personalized strength and conditioning program focusing on the strengthening of the neck musculature is extremely important.  For a properly structured program for yourself or your young athlete call or email us today at  to set up an evaluation.

By: Bobby DeThomasis