When I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, one of my friends in the graduate program had played football as a stand-out defensive back for the Wolfpack several years earlier.
One particular story he shared with me was a solo tackle he made against an oncoming fullback in a big game. After the tackle, he stood up, and as he did for hundreds of other plays before, proceeded to run into the huddle to get his next defensive assignment. As he stood in the huddle, he couldn’t understand all the odd looks he was getting from the players -- until one of the referees informed him he was standing in the wrong huddle. He motioned to the sideline that he wasn’t feeling right and needed a substitution. After a few tests, the athletic trainer confirmed that he had suffered a concussion.
Although this story sounds humorous, concussions are no laughing matter. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the incidence of concussions has reached an epidemic level. For young people between the ages of 15-24, concussions from sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, second only to motor vehicle accidents.
It has also been determined that at least one player suffers a concussion in every high-school football game, albeit at different levels of severity. In fact there will be 67,000 diagnosed concussions in high-school football this year -- a rate that reveals twice what was reported over a decade ago and does not reflect the number of undiagnosed concussions that go unreported by players who fear being taken out of a game by complaining of concussion symptoms.
A 2011 study found that 15 percent of all high-school sports injuries were concussion-related. As it relates to gender-based studies, women sustain a greater percentage of concussions statistically, although science has not determined if this is based on a social model (where female athletes are more willing to inform coaches and trainers of symptoms), anatomical as a result of the female skull circumference being slightly less, or muscular in that generally speaking, a females’ neck strength is weaker.
Yet another misconception is that concussions are incurred through direct contact with the head of an opposing player or teammate. Any sudden whiplash movements when a player’s head goes one way while their body goes another or when the head strikes can lead to a concussion.
Some of the more obvious signs of a concussion include headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, balance problems or dizziness, blurry or double vision, sensitivity to light or noise, sluggishness, foggy, groggy, trouble concentrating or simply not feeling “right.”
In addition to new state laws in which coaches and team trainers are learning to recognize the symptoms of concussions, sports science is beginning to suspect that strengthening the neck through resistance training allows the neck muscles to dampen and minimize forceful movements of the head.
While special machines are available to train neck strength, it does not need to be an expensive pursuit nor a lengthy part of the training process. Resistance bands and manual resistance of 5 to 10 minutes performed two to three times per week can play a critical role in reducing the risks for this injury and should be a part of every coach’s off-season training regimen, regardless of the sport.
The alarming rate of concussions can be decreased as coaches continue their education in recognizing symptoms and the value placed on neck strength as a potentially effective part of minimizing an athlete’s risk.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-750-0815 and online at www.theflashpoint.org and www.victorfitnesssystems.com.