Posted on May 24, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

Here’s a pro-active approach to dealing with potential brain injuries in sports: Prevent them by doing neck-strengthening exercises.

Mike Gittleson, who was the University of Michigan’s football strength and conditioning coach for 30 years, believes young athletes should be doing neck-strengthening exercises to protect themselves from brain injuries. In fact, I agree with him that such exercise should be mandatory, in both high school, college and even the NFL.

Gittleson retired from Michigan in 2008, but his work for a sports-clothing company since then has taken him to more than 250 colleges. From what he’s witnessed, few schools are promoting neck exercise. Essentially, we are training all parts of the body except the one that can help steady and protect one of our most valuable organs, the brain.

Gittleson wants to change that. He recently addressed the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches annual Convention in Orlando, Fla., about the issue. He is asking that the group make knowledge of neck anatomy a part of  its certification and argues that neck-strengthening exercises must be taught to athletes.

Physicians who study concussions agree that stronger necks can lessen, or diffuse, the impact of blows that cause concussions. So says Dr. Robert Cantu, who is a co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Cantu and Dr. Dawn Comstock are almost done with research on how neck length, diameter and strength factor into head trauma.

Another researcher, Ralph Cornwell, is conducting a study of 24 college-aged women and men who haven’t done neck exercises.  He will do tests where these people will be moving, as if a car, but then suddenly be stopped. Cornwell will measure how much their heads jerked by watching film of the test participants and digital mapping.

He will then have the 24 participants do neck exercises for a period of time, and retest them to see if there is any change in their range of motion when their movement is suddenly stopped.

At least one former Michigan player, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, credits Gittleson’s neck training with  helping  him play college and pro football without suffering any concussions.  That’s pretty good proof in favor of neck-strengthening.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447