“You’d rather be the hammer than the nail,” says Kevin Guskiewicz, from the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. He’s on the forefront of the war we’re waging against sports concussions. His talk was billed as “translating data into concussion prevention.” I’m not sure we’re there yet.
But here’s what I learned (may not be new but was new to me):
- the struck player (or implement) experiences 2x more acceleration than the striking player (thus, better to be the hammer than hammered)
- implications for heading: apply the force to the ball, don’t let it head you
- cervical muscles (upper shoulder and neck) are more effective (can exert 67% more force in the heading motion by extending the lever arm of the force) when they are activated quickly.
- implications for heading: preparing for impact may be even more important than absolute neck and shoulder strength
- **subconcussive impacts, pre-concussion, seem to increase chances of sustaining a concussion**
- implication for collision sports: monitoring your athlete’s “hit count” may allow you to predict when he is at most risk
What you can do with your team and your athletes:
- Start kids young (9-13 years) with exposure to motor skill learning and motor control of their bodies. Trying to learn new skills at the same time they are quickly growing in size and strength is a recipe for disaster.
- Track “hit counts” for each of your players. That means, collisions, falls, hard tackles, etc. in addition to knocks to the head or jarring impact that leaves them dazed.
- Train their dynamic vision. The better field vision they have, the quicker they react and and can anticipate and prepare for impact.
- Counsel players who have a “bad hits” profile. Get them on video if you can and show them what a brain study looks like for someone who has sustained a lot of collisions. Teach them how to play in a way that protects their brain (and others’.) Behavior modification works if the coach insists and sticks to his/her guns.
- Concussions which used to be diagnosed only functionally (by how you behaved and responded) will soon be confirmable by structural studies. Diffusion tensor imaging studies can now identify affected white brain matter. They show regions and intensity of brain change with accumulated hits and playing time. (most studies done in ‘grid-iron’ football players)
- Many new techniques are being developed to measure head acceleration directly in game circumstances. (see patched and skullcaps coming soon to your local sporting stores)
Play hard out there, but play smart and stay healthy. That one brain they’ve got…it’s got to last them.