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A former Bedford athlete now spends his days in a wheelchair, the lingering result of head injuries he believes occurred because of playing football three years ago.
Kacey Strough, now 18, received nearly $1 million from a U.S. District Court in Des Moines on May 11. A jury found the school district at fault because the school nurse was negligent in notifying coaches and Strough’s guardian of a possible concussion.
It’s the first case of a former Iowa athlete receiving such damages from a school, but it’s likely not the last… MORE >>>
A new study of N.F.L. retirees found that those who began playing tackle football when they were younger than 12 years old had a higher risk of developing memory and thinking problems later in life.
The study, published in the medical journal Neurology by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine, was based on tests given to 42 former N.F.L. players, ages 41 to 65, who had experienced cognitive problems for at least six months. Half the players started playing tackle football before age 12, and the other half began at 12 or older.
Those former N.F.L. players who started playing before 12 years old performed “significantly worse” on every test measure after accounting for the total number of years played and the age of the players when they took the tests. Those players recalled fewer words from a list they had learned 15 minutes earlier, and their mental flexibility was diminished compared with players who began playing tackle football at 12 or older.
The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on the some of the impending legalities of concussions. Read the full story HERE.
Here’s the tally so far in 2014: FRONTLINE tracks officially reported head injuries in the NFL/
The September 29, 2014 issue of TIME magazine cover story is one you’ll want to read:
What’s the scientific evidence for whether heading a soccer ball can cause brain damage?Our findings and the findings of other researchers show that heading a soccer ball can contribute to neurodegenerative problems, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Researchers who’ve followed soccer players have seen a close relationship between the amount of heading that a player does and brain abnormalities. There’ve also been studies where researchers compared soccer players to swimmers, and swimmers’ brains look perfectly normal while the soccer players’ brains had abnormalities in their white matter fiber tracts. Nerve cells transmit their messages to other nerve cells by way of their fiber tracts, or axons, and if the brain is violently shaken enough, a person can have disruption of their fiber tracts.
What are the effects of these brain abnormalities?
Excessive shaking of the brain—excessive subconcussive and concussive trauma—can lead to cognitive symptoms, including memory problems as well as behavior and mood problems such as anxiety and depression. Other symptoms include trouble with sleep, light-headedness and headaches.
Do researchers see this brain damage later in life, once someone has stopped playing soccer?
We haven’t yet followed these abnormalities over years. Those studies are ongoing. Do those abnormalities clear up over time or do they not? We don’t know the answer yet. It’s probably some of both.
Is there a threshold of force below which a person can safely head a ball?
The science isn’t there yet. We don’t even have a threshold that predicts the linear and rotational accelerations needed to cause a concussion. The linear forces are measured in gravity, and we’ve measured hits in various sports as high as 150 g’s where people haven’t had concussions and we’ve had other individuals with hits as low as 50 to 60 g’s who’ve had concussions. The other kind of forces—the rotational or twisting forces—which are measured in radians per seconds squared, we also don’t know those forces needed to produce concussions.
We also don’t have a good handle on the threshold needed to produce subconcussive trauma, which are blows to the head that don’t produce symptoms but do produce structural changes observable in neuroimaging.
Why is it taking so long for researchers to understand the effects of concussive and subconcussive impacts on the brain?
It’s a very complex issue. You have biomechanical forces that can be measured, like the linear and rotational acceleration. But we’re dealing with a human, not an inert object in a laboratory. There are a lot of biological factors that influence whether that human being has a concussion: How many concussions that person has had before, how severe those concussions were and how close together they occurred. Other factors include: age—it’s easier to be concussed at an earlier age than at an adult age, and the recovery is slower; neck strength—if you see the hit coming and you have a strong neck, you significantly reduce your chance of a concussion; hydration status—if you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to have a concussion; and sex—women are more easily concussed than men.
What’s your advice for soccer parents? Do you recommend an age cutoff for heading a soccer ball?
We recommend that youngsters under the age of 14 not head the ball in soccer, not play tackle football and not full-body check in ice hockey. Impacts to the head are more damaging under that age, due to a number of structural and metabolic reasons. The brains of youngsters are not as myelinated as adult brains. Myelin is the coating of the neuron fibers—kind of like coating on a telephone wire. It helps transmission of signals and it also gives neurons much greater strength, so young brains are more vulnerable.
Youngsters also have disproportionately big heads. By the age of five, their heads are about 90 percent of their adult circumference, but the neck has not nearly developed to that point. They have big heads on very weak necks and that bobblehead-doll effect means you don’t have to impact the head as hard to cause damage.
Should heading be banned from soccer altogether?
It shouldn’t be banned because we don’t have enough evidence right now to understand exactly what are the risks. The point of this research isn’t to reduce participation in soccer. The point is to have more people play soccer, but have them play it in a safer manner at the youth level. This doesn’t mean that youngsters can’t be taught these skills. Instead of heading a soccer ball, they should practice heading with a beach ball.
On January 31, 2014 the American Journal of Sports Medicine published an article on neck strength titled, Effect of Neck Muscle Strength and Anticipatory Cervical Muscle Activation on the Kinematic Response of the Head to Impulsive Loads. The findings indicated that male and female athletes could potentially modify risk factors for concussion by developing neck musculature. It was shown that having greater neck strength when bracing for impact reduces the magnitude of the head’s kinematic response.
The anticipatory act of bracing for a violent collision is important in protecting oneself from the effects of whiplash, yet bracing in itself is a common occurrence. When you run, neck muscles contract before your foot hits the ground. The process of running is inherently bouncy as our muscle tendon units act as springs to propel us up and forward. This aerial phase neck muscle contraction is in anticipation of the ground reaction force. Ground reaction force causes a vertical acceleration of the head that actually pitches the head forward at foot strike.
The human head uses a self-stabilizing system that does not rely on muscular reflex to control the pitching action during running. Reflex alone cannot control the action of the head once ground strike occurs – having fewer than then 10 milliseconds to control the up and forward action of the head is not enough time for our natural reflexes.
Our head, which is pitched forward upon landing, also rolls and yaws. This requires contractions of neck extensors, as well as flexors and a downward swing of an arm that dampens vertical acceleration. Each arm constitutes about eight percent of total body mass, roughly the same relative percent as the 5 to 6 kilogram runner’s head. If you consider the head in running as the primary mass then the downward swing of the stance side arm becomes the counter mass accelerating in the opposite direction, thereby dampening the skull’s oscillation. The athlete then alters their running form by bending and swinging his or her arms in movements with the appropriate power and speed to counter these varying vectors of force. Changing the mass or active stiffness of the arms through strength training and not addressing the mass and/or muscular system of the head and neck can be problematic. The coach and athlete will spend countless hours trying to achieve a particular running form that cannot truly be corrected unless they address the musculature that is controlling the movement of the skull.
There is another issue that the neck must attend to during running. When we land during sprinting we avoid falling down by utilizing the muscles of the lower back and hip – particularly the largest muscle of our body, the powerful gluteus maximus – to decelerate the trunk. As the trunk accelerates forward and then backward the head and neck accelerates backward then forward. Try this at home: Sit in your car and accelerate quickly forward then step on the brake. Vehicle acceleration provides example that the more the trunk pitches the more the head reacts. Increasing the strength and/or mass of the trunk and not addressing the strength and/or mass of the head and neck adversely effects athleticism.
As mentioned, the head also rolls and yaws during running, usually towards the stance side foot at foot strike. Once the runner is in the aerial phase one leg quickly swings forward while the opposite leg is thrust behind the body, causing angular momentum around the vertical axis. We counteract this by swinging our arms in an opposite phase to the legs to have an equal and opposite angular momentum. The neck must not only rotate in the opposite direction of the trunk but quickly prepare for being thrust vertically and forward upon landing.
The human brain is encased in a rigid skull and covered by a muscular scalp which is surrounded by three layers of membranes and floats in a protective cushion of cerebrospinal fluid. Though protected, brain trauma can occur with sudden acceleration or deceleration within the cranium. Control of head stabilization is one important line of defense for protecting the brain from perturbation. During activity, it remains relatively stable as we integrate information about the head and body from our eyes, vestibular system and proprioceptors of the neck. For athletes involved in any sport with an associated head trauma risk, protecting the brain from excessive subconcussive forces through strength training head and neck musculature for bracing is the first job of a strength and conditioning coach.
For any athlete to excel in sport, they must train the structures that decelerate opposing masses. This means that athletes must have head and neck training as part of their exercise regime. The head and neck muscles are countering arm swing, trunk pitch and rotation, as the arms are countering head pitch, leg swing and trunk movement. Developing one area and neglecting another is not conducive to optimal athletic development or performance. Train the entire system.
Alex Marvez has been in attendance at all our our clinics so far. Here is one of his articles about last year’s event:
Can Neck Strength Prevent Concussions?
Torrey Smith was one of three Ravens players to suffer a concussion in the 2013 season.
The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII with one of the NFL’s most loaded rosters.
But what good is talent if players can’t stay on the field or quickly recover from injuries.
Ravens strength coach Bob Rogucki delivered a reminder of that last week when speaking at the third-annual Football Strength Clinic in Cincinnati. The event focused on ways in which neck strength for male and female athletes who play high school, college or pro sports can be developed in an effort to reduce concussion risk.
While not as publicized as other NFL anti-concussion measures, there is scientific research that shows a muscular neck likely defuses the potentially damaging forces sometimes generated when a player is hit in the head. The larger the “cylinder,” the better the chance that the neck will serve as a shock-absorber to lessen stress placed on the skull.
Exactly how much Rogucki’s weight-lifting program helped players last season can’t be scientifically quantified. It’s safe to say, though, that it definitely didn’t hurt during Baltimore’s championship run. READ MORE >>>