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Can Neck Exercises Help to Reduce Concussions?

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Copyright 2017 The Deseret News Publishing Co.

Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)

 

SALT LAKE CITY - Ryzen Benson's experience told him that what Stephen Pizza told parents and players at a meeting last winter was true.

But the aspiring scientist couldn't help but wonder if there was actually empirical or statistical evidence that proved Pizza's assertion that strengthening neck muscles reduced concussions.

"Since I was about 6 years old I wanted to do scientific research," the Westminster junior said. "So what he said about the exercises and how they've helped lower our concussion rates, it was really interesting to me. I wanted to look at the databases we had. Most colleges have these databases where you can cross-link tens of thousands of academic journals."

There was, however, one problem.

"There was virtually no data on high school athletes who perform these exercises and whether it prevents concussions," he said. "So we observed that the concussions were going down year to year. But we wanted to confirm it." That led Benson, with the help of his Westminster professors and Pizza, to conduct a study that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl where he will present his findings during a Health Seminar organized by the NFL Players Association.

The West Jordan High alum said he's excited, and a little nervous, which is understandable as the other presenters include attorney Christopher Seeger, chief negotiator in the NFL's concussion-injury lawsuit; Nichole Lighthall, a University of Central Florida assistant professor of psychology who studies the brain; Megan Sherrod, clinical psychologist and expert on brain trauma; and numerous former NFL players.

The NFL Players Association Pro Bowl Health Symposium includes health screenings for former players, as well as discussions and presentations on various topics throughout the day-long event, which is also open to the public.

Benson has submitted his study to several journals in hopes of getting it published said what he found in the statistics did support Highland's anecdotal evidence.

The Rams began using the neck exercises (demonstrated in these videos) four years ago and saw concussions drop from 16 to a single concussion last year.

Benson, who is the nephew of Highland head coach Brody Benson, found five teams willing to participate: two who used the exercises and three that did not. He cannot name the schools but he selected one in the St. George area, one in Northern Utah and schools from 3A to 5A.

"I ended up having a huge group of 505 athletes," he said. "I asked the schools how many players they had on their teams and how many concussions they'd had in 2015."

He conducted extensive surveys with those players who'd had concussions in 2015. The questions included medical history, neurological disease, concussion history, athletic equipment used (brand of helmet), height, weight, and position. Then he stratified the data by school, as well as by player size and position, and found that not only was their assertion that the exercises helped true, but which players it didn't help.

"Of the teams that didn't do the neck exercises, players were five times more likely to suffer a concussion," he said. "When we looked at the stratified data, players who were shorter, weighed less and that played high-risk positions (skill positions like wide receiver and running back), it made less of a difference for them."

In other words, if a player is small - either in height or weight - and plays wide receiver or running back, the benefits of the exercises couldn't be seen as statistically significant.

Of the 208 athletes who performed the neck exercises in 2015, there were only four concussions.

Benson's study confirmed what he felt as a former player, and what Pizza observed anecdotally as strength and conditioning coach.

Benson believes the study will make it easier to share information that may help protect high school players. He said, however, that the bigger issue may still be getting young athletes to be honest about the severity of their injuries.

"As a player, I looked at them as my war stories," he said. "I hung a hat on those and said, 'Oh, I played an entire season with a broken shoulder!' And people are like, "You're an idiot.' So how do you go about a culture change like that? I feel like that's a long ways off."

email:adonaldson@desnew.com

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January 28, 2017

 

 
 

 

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