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Ralph Cornwell, Jr. PhD. Candidate from Virginia Tech announced today of the expansion of his research study looking at lowering concussive and subconcussive forces with anatomical changes to the  neck, trapezius and upper back , accomplished through resistance training.

Cornwell’s research appropriately named Project Neck,  is charged with creating a protocol that an athlete can use to lower concussive and subconcussive forces. Cornwell is using state of the art Pendulum equipment from Rogers Athletic.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Project Neck expanded it’s research from Virginia Tech to Elon University, located in North Carolina. Cornwell is working in conjunction with Elon professors Dr. Eric Hall and Dr. Paul Miller of the Neuroscience Department at Elon University.

Dr. Eric Hall      Dr. Paul Miller

Project Neck is the only study looking at preventative sports medicine. Addressing the concussive and subconcussive forces before the athlete concusses. A great amount of research is  ongoing at several universities in the United States involving concussion treatment and cause and effect. Project Neck, to the best of my knowledge, is the only proactive research study examining  the effects of anatomical and morphological changes in the human body and how these changes lower those forces.

The 8 week research study will use a protocol that involves hypertrophy of the muscles of the head and neck. The protocol also addresses the trapezius and the muscles of the upper back. Cornwell is also looking for circumference changes in the upper and lower regions of the neck. Baseline measurements taken at the beginning of the research will be compared to measurements  at the completion of the study.  Strength increases in the head and neck region will also be recorded each training session. The adaptations to the head and neck will increase the stiffness level of that area making for a more resilient athlete.

Lead Research Assistant Matt Kavalek takes baseline measurements

Cornwell’s hope is to create a basic protocol that  coaches of athletes or even  parents could use to help combat what The Center of Disease Control and Prevention calls a National Concussion Epidemic. Cornwell explains, “the only way to stop concussions in athletes is to stop playing their particular sport. If we can not stop concussions then we must prepare our athletes,youth to professional, for the rigors of their sport.” The process is really a combination of the best helmets, mouth pieces and coaching technique. The variable that I believe we are overlooking is the head and neck. An athlete can still sustain a concussion even while wearing a helmet.

The stronger athlete will be better prepared for contact or collision. Subcocussive forces are also a health problem that must be addressed. The low level bumps and dings an athlete receives in any given season can be a cause for concern later in life. Research has shown that subcocussive forces can cause long term brain injuries well after the athlete stops playing competitive sports. Concussions can be caused by the accumulation of these small hits too. When we watch sporting events on television it would make sense that the extremely hard collisions  we view would be the culprit of the concussion crisis. This not the case, as further research is conducted, scientists are finding the subconcussive forces to be just as damaging as the violent collisions. The problem with subconcussive forces is this; you don’t always notice them as an athlete playing a sport or as a coach observing a practice or game.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the National Institute of Health agree that America has a National Concussion Epidemic. These two goverment agencies are only called upon when there is a health crisis or problem with our food supply on a national level. If there were a Flu Epidemic, scientists would work towards a vaccine and begin inoculating the population with a cure. The Concussion Epidemic has been dealt with in a different manner. Researcher observe the cause of concussions and study how to best treat a concussion after the person has injured his or her brain.

Cornwell’s research takes a different approach towards the concussion epidemic. He believes we should inoculate our youth playing sports and their college and professional counterparts. Cornwell explains, ” I do not believe we are curing the concussion problem in America with any protocol designed to give the athlete the ability to lower  concussive forces. What I do believe is this, if we do nothing we are not giving our athletes any means of  resistance to concussive or subconcussive forces. If  my study helps to lower concussive forces  by 1 percent, it is a step in the right direction. If we raise the level by which subconcussive  forces can not harm the brain, this is also a step in the right direction.”

Project Neck’s protocol is time efficient, purposeful and presumed effective. The protocol can be performed in under 20 minutes twice a week. This is not a large amount of time out of an athletes day when we are concerned with brain injury.  I want this simple study to be the genius of larger research studies looking at protecting the athlete first and foremost. Researchers, athletic trainers and coaches will tell you we can do nothing to protect our athletes. If my research proves nothing at all but spurs on further research, then what harm was done? That’s what science is all about, the search for the truth.

I would like to thanks Dr. Hall and Dr. Miller for their support. I would also like to thank Elon University for allowing me to use their facilities and their generous hospitality.

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Comment by John Weatherly on March 23, 2011 at 9:12am
Important work Ralph!

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