Concussions and head injuries in sports are on the rise, mainly because of a lack of awareness of how to prevent them. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the past decade traumatic brain injuries among children in sports rose 60 percent—mostly in high school football and girls soccer.
On the plus side, equipment is improving. Helmets are coming out with more safety features, and some headgear even includes sensors to measure the impact of a hit.
How can we prevent such injuries? Here are a couple of ideas:
First, it’s important to understand what causes brain trauma. Most head injuries occur not from slamming into something hard (like another player’s head), but when the brain makes contact with the cranium when the body suddenly stops (like during a hit). This causes a contusion to the brain. The intercerebral fluid is meant to keep the brain safe, but unfortunately it cannot slow the brain enough to prevent this type of injury.
Commonly, we see this in hockey when one player directly targets another’s head with an elbow, shoulder or his hands. In football, many players duck into a hit. Although attempting to protect the ball, the player puts himself in a dangerous position. Head contact with the knee, body or another helmet is almost inevitable. In soccer, players “head” the ball into the goal or direction of a teammate. The contact with the ball could be enough to cause an injury, but it generally happens during contact with another player’s head.
That’s why it’s important to teach young athletes the appropriate ways to position themselves. The CDC’s Heads-Up program teaches student-athletes the right moves and offers baseline testing at the beginning of each season to ensure player safety.
2. Relaxation Technique
Unfortunately, attempts to use dynamic or isokinetic training to prevent concussion have proven ineffective. A 2005 study that looked at resistance training and dynamic stabilization of the cervical neck of NCAA soccer players found that increased neck girth and isometric flexor/extensor strength did not result in greater stabilization or prevention of head injuries. And more current research found that athletes may not be aware of the neck muscle tension changes when stepping forward.
One thing that did show results, however, was teaching athletes to reduce tension in their necks with 10 minutes or so of relaxation exercises. When you engage the sternocleidomastoid, the muscle that runs obliquely across the side of the neck, neck tension increases. One of the best ways to lengthen and relax this area is to perform yoga. A simple, forward-flowing movement such as Child’s Pose can help. Additionally, yoga, with its range of motion and contractile strengths, teaches muscle control.
Naish, Robert, Burnett, Angus, Burrows, Sally, Andrews, Warren, Appleby, Brendyn. “Can a Specific Neck Strengthening Program Decrease Cervical Spine Injuries in a Men’s Professional Rugby Union Team? A Retrospective Analysis.” J Sports Sci Med. 2013 September:12(3) 542–550. Web. 2013 September 1.
Harvey, Richard. “Dysponesis Awareness Training: Surface Electromyographic Training for Increased Awareness and Facilitated Neck Muscle Relaxation.” Biofeedback. 40.4 (2012): 142-149. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.