Concussion and Your Athlete: 5 Ways to Prevent and Recover This Season

As I write this, we’ve just finished the first week of the most exciting time of the year in Ohio – football season. While the Browns have yet to prove worthy of our attention, The Buckeyes and high school teams will dominate the headlines for the next few months and I love it.

However, with fall and the return to sports for many athletes comes a return to risk for injury. In the last decade especially, there’s been a drastic increase in attention to head trauma and concussions. This summer, the highlights continued as the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reaffirmed a settlement reached by the NFL and some of their alum that would provide them up to $5 million individually for residual damages (post-concussion and suspected chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

Because of these types of situations, many of you – or people you know – are pulling your children from contact sports like football, or not even introducing them to the sport in the first place. The problem is that this issue goes beyond football to other sports and even to teenage drivers who are at a much higher risk of being in an accident and thus be exposed to head trauma.

Here’s the deal though: The statistics support your concerns. I’m not one for throwing numbers around, but here’s one from the CDC’s Head’s Up Clinicians Course: “65% of concussions occur in children and teens 5-18 years of age”, and “[concussion is] the leading cause of disability in young adults worldwide.”1

But I want to point something out: it’s good that concussion diagnoses are on the rise. Talk to any man who played an organized sport prior to 2010 and you’ll hear how lax the regulation was on teams when assessing athletes for concussions. Then they made the news and every coach, player, doctor, ATC, and parent saw it.

And guess what happened? Those people began to take action. So now you have better education and awareness, better testing and rules for these athletes. But the fruit of good tests, awareness, and discussion is that some of those diagnoses that would have been missed previously will come out.
The problem is that this is not only a football problem, not to mention that few major developments have occurred in treatment or prevention. So I’m going to give you the 5 best pieces of advice I’ve been able to find to prevent and recover from concussions without discussing any individual treatment plans.

5 Ways to Prevent and Recover from Concussions


1.) Have A Neck Like Darth Vader [PREVENT]

One of the best predictors of outcomes from a concussion – and risk of a concussion in the first place – is pre-injury neck strength. This explains why some patients who struggle to recover following a single concussion are younger athletes or female soccer players who acquire them from “headers.” Neither of these athletes are people who traditionally train neck muscles by design (weightlifting) or even passively (like wearing a helmet that exercises neck muscles unintentionally).2

2.) Practice Common Sense [PREVENT]

Speaking of helmets, there’s this idiotic discussion surrounding contact sports that if we could just develop the perfect helmet we could eliminate the issue altogether. The problem with this argument is that it denies the basic mechanics of what happens in a concussion. Although a perfect diagnostic tool for a concussion has not yet been developed, what happens during a concussion is relatively simple.

Picture your skull like a hard lunchbox and your brain as some uncooked eggs inside: If you drop the lunchbox on the ground, the eggs will hit the inside and most likely crack. Now let’s take this a little further. If I wrap the outside of my lunchbox in really awesome protective foam and drop it at the right speed or with the right force, it will still crack the egg on the inside. This happens for the same reason we keep moving in a car accident if we don’t wear a seatbelt – momentum.

But the problem is the foam represents a helmet, and the eggs our brain. Until we can create a helmet that prevents the brain from striking the inside of the skull we haven’t really done much in the way of helmet technology. So here’s the takeaway on this one: Tell your kids to stop trying to make the highlight reel, ask the coach how they’re teaching your athletes to make and prevent contact, and teach your child that a helmet protects them from skull fractures, not concussions.

3.) Fancy New Gear [PREVENT]

All that being said, there has been a really cool recent development in concussion prevention technology called a Q-collar3. Developed by the company Q30 Innovations, the Q-collar is a small and simple-looking device that works under an interesting principle. The idea is based on what I was just saying about the brain being free-floating inside the skull. If we could -in theory- create a soft cushion inside the skull preventing the brain from shifting and striking the skull or stretching the brainstem, then we could stop concussions.

The execution is really interesting on this one because it plays off our natural functions. The collar places “gentle pressure” on the neck where our jugular veins run, slowing the drainage of blood from the brain while the flow of fresh blood into the brain remains the same. What this means is there is a mild swelling effect that occurs in and around the brain, eliminating that extra space (like putting foam inside your lunch box to protect your eggs).

Now, because we’re talking about willfully causing swelling on the brain, I’ll be honest: I’m a bit skeptical . . . but interested. Q30 Innovations sponsored two research studies, one through Frontiers In Neurology and the other through the British Journal of Sports Medicine using Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and two football teams in the Cinci area. Keep your eyes on this technology as it’s pending FDA approval.

4.) Cervical Spine Manipulation [RECOVER]

So now that I’ve discussed three ways to prevent concussions, I want to get into recovery. A common area also affected during traumatic brain injury is the neck. It makes sense, right? During an impact, just like a car accident, abnormal motion of the neck occurs. Research has begun to reveal that dysfunction with cervical (neck) biomechanics can cause concussion symptoms to go unresolved despite other issues being fixed. Some case studies – like one with former Bears QB Jim McMahon – have led to new concepts of how we view the role of the neck in concussion rehab.

Regardless, the evidence is out there: Get your neck checked by a chiropractor. Clinician experience has shown it helps, and research is catching up.4

5.) Fast Food, Fats, and Fish Oils [RECOVER]

So let’s say you or your kid already has a concussion. There are four quick nutritional plays you need to make to get your best odds at long-term recovery.

  • The first is stop putting crappy, inflammatory foods in your body. You know which ones I’m talking about. It’s most of the food served in school cafeterias across the country, it’s most of the food you pull from the freezer to heat in the microwave. I’m talking about grains, refined sugars, preservatives, food dyes, and all that other junk that we shouldn’t be eating anyway, but is worse when we have a head injury. These are the same foods raising inflammatory alarms in your already injured body. The problem is your body is trying to heal, and inflammatory foods will do two things: slow down the healing process and encourage the cells that clean up broken down cell parts (in the brain they’re called microglia) to keep on cleaning – often eating healthy cells too.
  • Next is to fast. No I don’t mean completely stop eating, what I’m talking about is intermittent fasting or the “autophagy” diet. Fasting helps to calm down the body’s inflammation by keeping blood sugar low and allowing the body time to focus on the task at hand – healing.5
  • The third is our favorite at Whole Body Health – fats. Consuming good healthy fats in the presence of little to no carbs and intermittent fasting leads to something called ‘nutritional ketosis’. This is when your body switches from using carbs as fuel to using ketones (a by-product of fat). Research has shown time and time again that nutritional ketosis is freaking fantastic (yes, that’s scientific lingo) for neurological conditions, including concussions.
  • The last is a no-brainer – fish oils, specifically omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oils are essential to so much in the body, but in this case, the repair of inflamed tissue and the wrapping around our nerves. Consume them. If you don’t believe me, do some more research. And the funny thing is that according to some experts, there’s no upper limit on recommendations for omega-3s. So find a high-quality fish oil and start popping.6

Stay Healthy My Friends,

Bob Griesse, D.C., C.S.C.S.

1 CDC “Heads up to Clinicians” Course

2 J Prim Prev. 2014 Oct;35(5):309-19. doi: 10.1007/s10935-014-0355-2

3 Morin, M., Langevin, P., & Fait, P. (2016). Cervical Spine Involvement in Mild

4 Traumatic Brain Injury: A Review. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016, 1590161.

5 J Neuroscience Res. 2008 Jun;86(8):1812-22. doi: 10.1002/jnr.21628

6 Michael D. Lewis MD MPH MBA FACPM FACN (2016) Concussions, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the Innovative Use of Omega-3s, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 35:5, 469-475, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2016.1150796.

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