By Matt Hummel
By now I am sure you have heard about the concussion epidemic that is currently affecting athletes participating in not only contact sports, but non-contact sports, falling and traffic accidents as well. In addition to concussions there is also more research being done on repetitive subconcussive forces and the impact they are having on brain function.
If somehow you have not yet heard about concussions, they are brain injuries typically caused by a blow to the head or having ones upper body and head shaken aggressively. These injuries can result in headaches, trouble concentrating, memory issues, and problems with balance and coordination.
Currently the most effective way to recover from a concussion is to rest. This includes refraining from sports and physical and mental exertion such as working, schoolwork, playing videogames, and reading. Returning too soon to the activity that caused the initial concussion can also increase the risk for another concussion, which can create a lasting brain injury.
So, how can concussions and the effects of subconcussive forces be reduced aside from proper protective gear (helmets, seatbelts, etc.), coaching, rule enforcement, and overall limiting the number of head impacts over the course of a sports season? The answer is strength training, specifically addressing the neck and upper back and additionally working on balance to prevent falls. By increasing neck and upper back strength athletes are better able to dissipate these forces and help reduce whiplash like movements of the neck and head.
At IGNITE we implement a wide variety of neck and upper back strengthening into our strength training program for all of our athletes and teams. A multitude of exercises are utilized to help strengthen these vital, but often overlook muscle groups.
To get started strengthening your neck and incresing your balance at home you can incorporate these four exercises:
Neck Exercises on the Ground
Front Flexion: To start lie on ground face up with arms in goal post position (resting on ground elbows even with shoulders and bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lift head off ground creating tension in neck, bring chin to chest, lower slowly to ground and repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
Side Flexion: Same starting position as Front Flexion with back of head lifted 1-2 inchs on ground, keeping tension in neck slowly bring ear to shoulder, return to start position, repeat for 8-10 repetitions, and then repeat on opposite side.
Solo Manual Resistance Neck
Front Flexion: To start lie on bench, bed, or similar with head off of the edge. Using your hand apply pressure to the chin and forehead, in a controlled manner contract neck muscles to bring chin to chest, return to start position and repeat 8-10 repetitions.
Side Flexion: Begin sitting with good posture, using right hand to apply pressure to right side of head contract neck muscles on that side bringing ear towards shoulder in a controlled manner, slowly return to start, repeat 8-10 repetitions, and repeat on left side.
Single Leg Balance
Simply bend knee until you are in a 1/4 squat or athletic position one one leg making sure your knee does not pass the tips of your toes. Try to hold this position for 30+ seconds. If you have poor balance make sure you have a solid, immovable object (arm of couch, counter top, chair, table, wall, etc) close to steady yourself. If this becomes easy complete with eyes closed.
Balance Taps (Figure 4)
Same position as Figure 3. Without knee passing front of toes, slowly reach elevated as far as possible to the front, side, and back tapping it gently on ground without putting weight onto it, continue taps in a random order until 5+ taps are reached each direction, repeat on opposite foot. This is a progression from Figure 3, if you are unable to complete Figure 3 do not attempt Figure 4. If this becomes easy complete with eyes closed.
As these exercises become easier you will need additional exercise progressions which can be discovered through training with IGNITE Elite Athletic Training.