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Compression collar may lower effects of head collisions in sports

The collar lessens blood flowing out of the brain, increasing blood volume to help it more tightly fit in the skull in order to avoid sloshing around and being damaged.

By Stephen Feller
Compression collar may lower effects of head collisions in sports
Sean Clifford, quarterback for St. Xavier High School's football team, was among players asked to wear the experimental Q-Collar during games to measure its efficacy at preventing micro-injuries to the brain sustained from thousands of non-concussion-causing hits per season. Photo by St. Xavier High School

CINCINNATI, June 15 (UPI) -- An experimental compression collar that lowers the flow of blood out of the brain may help prevent the long-term effects of taking hits in rough sports.

The Q-Collar reduced the effects of collisions on the brains of football and hockey players who wore it, suggesting minor, internal brain injuries that build up to cause problems over time could be reduced or avoided, according to researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

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Based on studies on "brain slosh," which researchers say is caused by the brain not fitting tightly into the skull, means that while helmets in sports help prevent injury outside the head, the movement of the brain from strong and repeated hits is not prevented.

A study earlier this year at Boston University suggests the thousands of hits sustained in practice and during gameplay by athletes poses a far greater long-term risk than concussions do because of the emergence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

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The research on brain slosh shows athletes playing at higher altitudes experience less brain movement because of higher cerebral blood flow, which cuts down on injuries. Researchers related this to head-ramming sheep, which collide at 10 times stronger the impact than two football players, generally doing so at higher altitudes.

The researchers also considered the woodpecker, which has head impacts with trees 20 times greater than those between football players, wrapping its tongue around the top of its head -- with pressure against their jugular veins -- to increase blood volume in their brain and prevent sloshing.

The Q-Collar, a specially designed device that puts subtle pressure on the jugular vein to slow blood outflow, which increases blood volume to help the brain fit more tightly in the skull, aims to act with the same protection as the woodpecker's tongue, researchers said.

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The researchers conducted two tests of the device, one with hockey players and the other with football players, during the season to test its efficacy at preventing disruption of microstructure and functional performance of the brain.

The study with hockey players, published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology and Neurotrauma, the researchers recruited 15 players, outfitting them all with accelerometers to measure impacts and randomly assigning them to wear the collar or not.

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At the beginning of the season, researchers measured microstructure of the brain and its performance, finding differences between the beginning and end of the season for players without the collar while those who wore the collar did not have any significant differences.

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Similar results were seen in a study with football players, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, after researchers fitted 21 athletes at St. Xavier High School with the collar and following 21 at Moeller High School who did not receive the collar.

Following the football players using the same method as the hockey players -- accelerometers tracking every hit a player sustained, and measuring structure and function of each players' brain before and after the season -- the researchers found similar protection from the collar.

"The results of the studies demonstrate a potential approach to protecting the brain from changes sustained within a competitive football and hockey season, as evidenced by brain imaging," Dr. Greg Myer, director of sports medicine research at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said in a press release. "We still have more data analysis and investigation to do, but this device could be a real game-changer in helping athletes."

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