Concussions in Athletes. Are They Preventable?

Concussions in Athletes. Are They Preventable?
If your child or athlete plays a contact sport, you probably have noticed the recent increase in media attention on concussions. In sports medicine, this is not a new phenomenon but rather an old lingering problem with a new resurgence in awareness. In the state of Alabama, if an athlete is “suspected” of having a concussion, then they “legally” cannot return to play until they are cleared by an MD. Is this overkill and society being too cautious? We think not. As a parent or athlete, are there things that you can do?
Educate yourself on concussions. What are the signs and symptoms, what is the recovery, what are the complications and what is the proper course of care for the concussed athlete? Knowing the signs and symptoms allows you to make informed decisions.
Add a concussion preventative program to your pre-season and in-season routine.
Adding a neck strengthening program to your routine will reduce the potential for sustaining a
concussion. However, according to recent research in Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, neither the severity nor probability of sustaining a concussion is dramatically impacted with the implementation of a cervical strengthening and exercise routine. According to the biomechanical studies, the torque that occurs with a rotational force (as occurs with boxer being hit with round house) nor the magnitude of force that the brain sustains with an impact is influenced in any way with increased strength of the cervical spine. Hence, according to the studies, the probability of sustaining a concussion is not impacted with a cervical strengthening program.
However, that said, there are several flaws with these types of studies. First of all, it is an extremely difficult to study rotational forces and magnitude of force in live subjects. Secondly, the cervical strengthening programs implemented are not well defined and not ones that we would traditionally do. Researchers conclude that this is an area that needs to be further analyzed and which there needs to be further investigation into the benefits of a neck/cervical strengthening program. Knowing the above, is there a place for neck/cervical strengthening? Absolutely.
Emphasize strength and endurance of the cervical musculature (traps,scalene, paraspinals, etc) and multi-planar strengthening
This type of strengthening will not only result in decreased incidence of concussions but also decreased severity of concussions when one is sustained (due to the decrease in force and torque). So will this type of program prevent a concussion? No, but it may decrease the athlete’s chances of sustaining one and is something that most athletic programs are implementing as a result. The key is to ensure you are getting a program that addresses the appropriate musculature, emphasizes strength and endurance and includes multi-planar strengthening. If this is combined with educating one self, proper head and neck gear, a well defined protocol for dealing with the concussed athlete, a team athletic trainer and a physician versed in concussion, then the risk is dramatically improved.

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