SPORT-RELATED CONCUSSION (SRC): Injury without contact to the head
How is the brain injured with no contact to the head/helmet?
In my last blog we explained the mechanisms of injury causing SRC and how the brain moves in reaction to the mechanism of direct impact to the head/helmet, as well as how injury occurs. The mechanism of indirect impact in which there is no contact to the head/helmet causes the head/helmet to move suddenly or violently. This abrupt movement by the head/helmet exerts inertial forces to the brain which can result SRC. Again, sudden acceleration and deceleration of the head/helmet is what causes SRC. This mechanism is referred to as a whiplash brain injury. Let’s explore what is happening to the brain inside the skull with an indirect impact.
Whiplash is defined as an abrupt snapping motion or change of direction resembling the lash of a whip. Any hit to the body can cause the head and neck to whip in any direction and can cause SRC. The two most common in football are an impact to the quarterback getting ready to pass or a receiver catching a pass.There are two possibilities of brain movement within the skull during these whiplash brain injuries. 1.) The head/helmet and brain continue to move in unison, accelerating at the same speed togetheruntil the head/helmet comes to zero velocity and changes direction; or 2) Upon contact, when the body stops moving, the head/helmet (which weighs 12- 13 pounds) accelerates at a faster rate than the brain (which weighs three pounds). 
A receiver comes across the field on a pass route and gets hit in the chest by a defensive back allowing for his head/helmet to continue moving forward. The posterior (or back of the skull) is pushing the brain forward. The head/helmet and brain accelerate together until the head/helmet whips to a stop when the chin is near the chest, reaching zero velocity. The front of the brain (dura mater) has maintained its space with the anterior aspect of the skull until it comes to zero velocity. But the back side of brain separates and continues to compress toward the front side as the head/helmet comes to a stop and begins pushing the brain in the other direction. This compression occurs until the momentum of the entire brain has changed direction. The same thing now happens moving in the posterior direction, but now the brain is being pushed by the anterior side of the skull. This time though, when the head/helmet comes to zero velocity, there is separation between the posterior brain and skull. The brain continues to accelerate toward the skull as it changes direction and comes back and strikes the brain and begins pushing it anteriorly again.
Now, let’s look at what happens if the head/helmet’s momentum causes the head/helmet to accelerate faster than the brain. The posterior skull then pushes the posterior brain forward, but in this case since the brain’s acceleration is less than the head/helmet, the front of the brain begins to separate from the anterior aspect of the skull and compression of brain starts even though both head/helmet and brain are moving in the same direction. When the head/helmet comes to zero velocity and changes direction, it hits the brain and begins pushing it posteriorly until the entire brain brain’s momentum is changed and moving in the same direction. Now the same thing occurs in the posterior direction as described above.
In both scenarios the head/helmet and brain motion continue as described until the head/helmet decelerates and comes to a complete stop. In both, the head/helmet and brain motion of acceleration/deceleration occurs with any indirect impact. The only thing that could change is the direction of movement. The key is that the acceleration/deceleration of the head/helmet is what causes the acceleration/deceleration of the brain inside the skull by pushing the brain.
As with direct impacts, the brain does not bounce back and forth inside the skull with indirect impacts. The brain is pushed back and forth from the acceleration and deceleration of the head/helmet. Therefore, to reduce the risk of SRC we must go beyond the helmet with new technology which slows down the motion of the head/helmet in both indirect and direct impacts. Helmets cannot slow down the head and therefore do not and cannot protect the brain against all forces and energy that act upon it. It is the kinetic energy of the brain’s own motion which elicits forces causing SRC.
There has been much discussion about whether helmets work or don’t work in the protection against SRC. My next blog will discuss what a helmet does and what it does not do. Helmets protect heads. Kato Collar protects brains!
SPORT-RELATED CONCUSSION (SRC): What happens inside the skull?
SRC is a traumatic brain injury induced by biomechanical forces; it may be caused either by a direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head.  To simplify, SRC in football occurs from direct impact that causes contact and inertial forces to the head and from indirect impact that causesonly inertial forces to the head. A direct impact to the head/helmet causing the head/helmet to decelerate and accelerate can occur with helmet-to-helmet, helmet-to-shoulder pad, helmet-to-body, or helmet-to-ground forces. An indirect impact is caused when there is no contact with the helmet, but the head/helmet moves suddenly or violently. This can occur with body-to-body impacts causing the head to change direction rapidly. In both cases of direct or indirect impacts, the point of emphasis is that THE HEAD MOVES in the majority of impacts in football. Most experts agree that abrupt acceleration/deceleration of the head is the cause of SRC. But the question to be asked in the prevention of SRC is “What is happening to the brain during acceleration/deceleration of the head?”
If you are following my posts, we learned last week, that based on the structural anatomy of the brain, it is separate from the skull and does not bounce. If the brain does not bounce (even though many are taught that it does), then what does the brain do? One mechanism of direct contact is helmet-to-helmet in which both move with velocity and direction. During contact each helmet comes to zero velocity prior to changing direction and then they accelerate away from each other and reach a new velocity based on their momentum. Does the brain reach zero velocity at the same time as the helmet? Of course not! It is separate from the skull. The brain is still accelerating in the direction of the contact because it is separate from the head/helmet. The part of the brain closest to the point of contact moves into the skull first as the back side compresses. The brain does not begin to decelerate and reach zero velocity at the same time as the head/helmet. It continues in the same direction until the head/helmet changes direction and begins pushing the brain in the opposite direction of contact. The energy that is elicited to the brain is not from the contact, but from its own kinetic energy of motion toward contact site. This push of the brain by the head/helmet continues until the entire brain’s momentum is moving in the same direction as the head/helmet. Important to note: Deceleration of the head/helmet to zero velocity on contact occurs while acceleration of the brain inside the skull continues. One is slowing down, and the other is not.
What happens next? The head/helmet continues to accelerate moving away from the contact pushing the brain until the head/helmet whips to a stop coming to zero velocity. When the head/helmet stops moving, the brain is now accelerating with its own momentum inside the skull. The brain separates from the contact side of the skull and continues in motion with its own velocity in the direction the head/helmet reached its zero velocity. As this motion of the brain occurs, the head/helmet begins accelerating back towards the contact site and hits the brain pushing it in the opposite direction. This continues to occur until the head/helmet stops moving. Important to note: During this second contact of the brain with the skull, the brain is accelerating in opposition to the acceleration of the head/helmet. They are in motion and accelerating toward each other.
All of the mechanisms of injury are what we call SRC, and they occur in less than a second. The head/helmet stops moving in less than a second in most incidences. Does the SRC occur with the first contact of the skull and brain or the second contact? Or do both contribute to the SRC? Based on our previous post about the narrative created by helmet companies and the NFL, it only occurs on the first contact between the skull and brain as the helmet only works during direct contact.
I believe that injury to the brain (SRC) undoubtedly occurs with both the first and second contact of the skull and brain. One could even make the argument that even more force elicited to the brain on the second contact of brain and skull than the first. Here’s why! When a player is setting up to block his opponent on a kickoff return and they hit helmet-to-helmet, the blocker is usually the player who sustains a concussion. The blocker’s head/helmet has very minimal motion and velocity upon contact with the opposing player’s helmet. For all practical purposes, the head/helmet and brain of player blocking on the kickoff are not moving when struck by opponent covering the kick. Therefore, both head/helmet and brain are basically at zero velocity when contact occurs. The direct impact causes the blocker’s head/helmet to move, and the inferior side of the skull pushes the brain in the direction the head/helmet is moving after contact. Important to note: In this first contact of skull to brain the head/helmet is accelerating into the brain which is fairly stationary with little or no acceleration or deceleration. The head/helmet accelerates based on the momentum created by impact and begins pushing the brain. The mass of the head/helmet is 12-13 pounds; it is pushing a 3-pound brain. [2.3] When the head/helmet comes to zero velocity as it whips to a stop the brain is now no longer in contact with the skull and its momentum and acceleration is less than the head/helmet. As the head/helmet comes out of zero velocity, it changes direction and moves back toward the brain, striking the brain which is still moving in the direction the head was moving prior to its change of direction. Important to note: The head/helmet and brain are accelerating toward each other.
Back to the question of does the SRC occur with the first contact of the skull and brain or the second contact? Or do both contribute to the SRC? I believe it is very clear that there are forces elicited to the brain after direct impacts to the helmet that attribute to SRC. It is also apparent that the brain is not bouncing back and forth inside our skulls but is being pushed back and forth by the momentum of the head/helmet after direct impact. Therefore, it is important to understand that movement and speed of motion of the head/helmet after direct impact significantly increases the chance that a SRC can occur. Which is why technology going beyond the helmet is necessary to prevent SRC. The necessary innovation must decelerate the head/helmet after impact.
More support for this necessary technology will come in my next blog which addresses SRC caused by indirect impacts.
Consensus statement on concussion in sport—the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016;McCrory P, etal; Downloaded from http://bjsm.bmj.com/ on January 2, 2018 – Published by group.bmj.com;
Helmet companies want us to believe the brain bounces back and forth after impact that is what causes a SRC. And the NFL has coined the term HeadHealth having us believe the term means they are addressing the brain and SRC. Neither are the whole truth! The brain does not bounce and HeadHealth does not always address brain health. In order to better understand this, we need to review the structuralanatomy of the brain. It is absolutely crucial to understand that the brain is separate from the skull. When the literature regarding the mechanism of injury for sport related concussion talks about the head, in most instances, they are referring to the brain and the skull as one unit. But when defined by human anatomy the upper portion of the body consisting of the skull with its coverings and contents, including the lowerjaw is defined as the head. The brain might be contained in the skull, but the brain and head are two separate entities. You can move your head, and your head moves your brain. You cannot move your brain inside your skull.
The best way to see this is through a picture of how the brain is housed inside the skull.
The theories we have been led to believe about how the brain moves in a concussion I will call the “Bouncing Brain Theory” and the “Floating Brain Theory”. From Figure 1 and 2 above you can see the different layers and spaces between the skull and the cerebrum which lies just below the pia mater. In most pictures like this the cerebrum is labeled the brain (as in Fig. 1) which can be confusing when talking about a SRC because everything below the skull is part of the brain and includes the dura mater which lies directly next to the inferior side of the skull . . Pictures like this also make us think there is a significant distance between the skull and the cerebrum and other structures of the brain. When in reality the space between the inferior skull to the cerebrum or other parts depending on the location is only .4 and 7 mm which is extremely small. Most of the cerebrospinal (CSF) fluid lies in the subarachnoid space which leads to why we are made to think that the brain bounces or floats. These two facts: 1) the brain is separate from the skull; and 2) it is packed inside very tightly should make it easy to deduce that the brain cannot bounce back and forth. But there is other anatomy of the brain which also keeps the brain from bouncing or floating.
In addition to this, CSF and the ventricles contained within the brain integrate with the CSF contained in the spaces between the linings so that the CSF flows in a system designed to protect the structures of the brain enclosed by the skull (Fig. 3).
The ventricular system consists of four ventricles within the brain which do provide some buoyancy to the brain in order support and protect structures, but not enough to make it float around inside the skull. CSF surrounding the brain combined with flowing through the four ventricles and folds protect the brain by acting as a shock absorber and supporting the brain through suspension by providing buoyancy. [2,3]
And then you incorporate the corpus callosum into the mix which is the largest commissural tract in the human brain, with 200-300 million axons connecting the two cerebral hemispheres. [4,5] The corpus callosum (Fig. 4) is a thick bundle of myelinated nerve fibers 10 cm long and 25 mm high made up of white matter.  White matter has a higher elastic modulus than gray matter and myelination of nerves increases this modulus of elasticity. Elastic modulus is a quantity that measures a substance’s resistance to being deformed elastically when a stress is applied to it, and white matter (corpus callosum) has an elastic modulus which on the average is 39% stiffer than gray matter (cerebrum).[8,9] So not onlyis the corpus callosum’s function to connect the two cerebral hemispheres for communication but based on its histological make up it is a supportive structure of the cerebrum during excessive motion caused by forces acting on the brain from the different impacts causing SRC.
Based on the brain’s mechanical and structural anatomy designed to absorb the kinetic energy created by its own movement in reaction to impacts causing violent movement of the head the brain is not bouncing back and forth inside the skull as depicted in the movie “Concussion”. The brain’s motion is always and only in reaction to the movements of the head. The head initiates all movement and contact of the brain that causes a SRC.
My next blog will explain the types of impacts and the mechanisms of injury which cause SRC.
Axon position within the corpus callosum determines contralateral cortical projection Jing Zhou, Yunqing Wen, Liang She, Ya-nan Sui, Lu Liu, Linda J. Richards, and Mu-ming Poo; PNAS July 16, 2013; 110 (29) E2714-E2723;https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1310233110
My name is Jeff Chambers and I have been a Certified Athletic Trainer for approximately 40 years. I provided health care to student athletes for 35 of those 40 years.
Except for the interruption of CoVid, sport-related concussion (SRC) has been the most researched injury over the past 10 to 12 years, receiving significant attention from the media. Millions of dollars have been spent on SRC during the same 10 -12 years. The NFL alone has allocated close to $20 million in concussion research and in awards toward the prevention of SRC (1).
As a Certified Athletic Trainer, I evaluated and cared for student athletes with this injury throughout my career. As a result, I have been studying the mechanism of injury (MOI) and causes of SRC for the last 12 years and the burner/stinger injury for over 20 years. Throughout my experiences, many questions regarding SRC arose that I wanted answered so I began my own research. But after sifting through countless journals and articles, the answers I was seeking could not be found.
However, I discovered that everything we believe about how SRC occurs is all based on theory. And what we are led to believe about the causes of SRC is not the whole truth. In my following posts I am going to address the questions and topics below based on my review of the literature, research about prevention of SRC, and my extensive experience with SRC:
What is the narrative we have been led to believe about prevention of SRC?
How was it created?
Who created it?
Does the brain bounce? Does the brain float? What does it do?
Do helmets prevent concussions? When? Where? How?
Does neck strengthening prevent SRC?
Can helmets become culpable in SRC?
Does corporate business really care about our youth playing football?
Are there other ways to prevent SRC?
What new technology is available to prevent SRC?
What is the technology is needed to protect our youth?
Before launching Kato Collar, we performed two independent biomechanical tests at NTS Chesapeake Testing and Lakehead University in the same manner football helmets are tested in the laboratory. During testing, Kato Collar lowered multiple measures of head impact severity that are associated with the risk of concussion.
In this short video clip, I explain our testing process, address what 30% impact reduction means and show a demonstration of an impact on a helmeted head, both with Kato Collar and without.
You can watch the short video explanation here ⇒ VIDEO CLIP
You can also read an in-depth report about our research here ⇒ WHITE PAPER
When it comes to anatomy of the head, the first thing we need to understand is that the brain is not attached to the skull. And the best way to think about this is you cannot move your brain inside your skull. Muscles do not attach to your brain to move it. Your brain only moves when your head moves. This is key in understanding how helmets and how Kato Collar work together to prevent head injuries in football.
In this short video clip, I explain how our technology works and why it as important as a helmet in protecting players. Make sure you listen closely at the one-minute where I give a very clear analogy. This video is the first in series on Kato Collar – stay tuned, stay informed, stay safe and play football.
Tips for Parents
Sports have always been a big part of my life. Growing up in Nebraska, fall meant football, and it was everything to win that week’s game! While I enjoyed playing basketball, I absolutely loved football.
During each practice, we learned much about each other — and about life. We talked about each other’s family, and over time, we became a family. We learned to count on each other to do the job our position required, building trust in others. We learned patience, seeing others work on their athleticism and techniques. In our office, we often say how you can’t “unlearn” the skills taught during those years. Ain’t that the truth.
It will come as no surprise that I’m concerned that so many parents are pulling their kids from sports. Youth sports are at an all-time low in America and at the same time, we have the highest rate ever of childhood obesity, and more kids are leading sedentary lifestyles. It’s not just the soft-skills taught in these years that we should be considering; it’s the healthy future of our kids.
Football has gotten most of the pressure, yet in all sports, there are risks of an injury. How can we encourage kids to stay in sports such as football and still feel like we’re doing the best job possible as parents?
First, find out what interests them. Football, basketball, volleyball, whatever it is, and have a conversation about what they’d like to do. This often means trying out a few sports, seeing what they are good at doing. It doesn’t happen overnight, and worth the time spent!
Meet with the coach or athletic director at their school. Ask them questions about the program’s safety, finding out more about protocols they are using after an injury. Ask tough questions about how they are creating a culture of safety, one that ensures kids are safe to discuss injuries without judgment or bullying from other players.
Talk to other parents. There are groups on Facebook that may offer a quick view of the culture at your school, and that’s helpful. I would say you should try to meet with parents as well, such as going to a game and striking up a conversation. They’re on the front lines and can offer lots of insight!
Do the research online. Check out what others in the industry are doing to protect their players, and become familiar with the language they are using. As parents, it is up to us to do our homework. Whether it’s getting behind the wheel of a car or playing sports, we know our kids are at risk of an injury. It’s up to us to support each other with the facts and thus offering our kids the best chance to get the lessons we want them to learn in their early years.
My father was a teacher and coach, and my identical twin (yes, there are two of us!) and I were lucky to have his leadership guiding us. He stressed the fun we’d have if we got involved, and pushed us in positive ways to stay the course. As parents, that’s what we all should hope to provide for our kids.
As I write this blog post, I can’t help but feel frustrated about the misconceptions and misleading click-bait articles that have caused a variety of reactions that seem to surround football conversations.
These conversations are happening in homes, within football communities, football teams and boosters, and with countless advocates for the game of football. We started Guardian Athletics to innovate around products that can help elevate player safety — not only football but also any high-impact sport. And we also observed a lack of awareness around head injuries and concussions overall.
I recently listened to a dynamic conversation on Minnesota Public Radio with a roundtable of folks on a similar mission as ours. Please take time to listen to this conversation for yourself! Here’s the link. We are going to discuss their roundtable over a series of posts in the coming weeks.
The increase of concussion awareness has led to increased pressure for protocols related to how concussions are observed. Yet the additional research around concussions and sports is extremely complex and while football is a great place to start increased protocols, and all of us need to commit to greater advocacy for education around concussions and injuries overall.
Did you know that girl’s hockey has a higher rate of concussions vs. boys hockey (source: Washington Post)? What are some potential reasons for this, and what can we learn from this disparity in hockey that relates to football?
First, a girls neck is less strong largely due to the lack of proper neck strengthening tactics taught by trainers and coaches. That means the deceleration of the head can be greater, and as an intervention, we need to prevent injuries by providing proper training to girls.
Generally, young girls aren’t trained on how to tackle or simply how to tumble. Teaching kids how to tumble is important to learn at a young age. Stats show that boys learn this easier than girls and we need to close that gap by being better trainers.
Finally, girls have a different chemical and biological makeup that requires a different means of training and strengthening to ensure they are safe. It isn’t simply a one-size-fits-all approach to keep them safer from injuries. This is a good reminder that we should be continuing to provide training practices that best relate to the player, no matter the sport.
Dr. Uzma Samadani and Mr. Grant comment that football is the safest its ever been, and we agree. Additional resources — driven by a mix of media influence and overall fan/player voices being heard — support the safer game overall. Consider the evolving nature of concussion protocols. Dr. Samadani speaks of the process, and how through a series of eliminating a list of variables, the player can be quickly (and many times incorrectly) put back into the game with potential damages that weren’t seen in these first moments after the hit. Coaches have the voice to make a decision on how to pull the player. However, this is arbitrary (outlined in a post by our founder here) and potentially guided by other considerations, some not medical in their nature.
Working on building algorithms that help identify what are correct protocols for post-injury is essential and exciting: This means we can advance in safety overall. Testing eye movements are quite standard in a variety of medical tests and having a standardized approach to this test will enable safer treatment after an impact.
In a future post, we’ll discuss the importance of the sport related to what comprehensive research shows for kids later in life. In the MPR story, Dr. Samadani speaks about trust and how that is given her confidence with her permission for her son to play the game. We’ll dive into that topic and how it’s part of a new discussion that we need to have with our families.
Burner/Stingers: We Can Help
Unless you are well versed in football, you likely haven’t heard of a burner/stinger.
Let’s start with the technical definition: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send signals from your spine to your shoulder, arm, and hand. When you have a brachial plexus injury or a BPI, it is when these nerves are stretched, compressed, or ripped apart from the spinal cord. When these occur, the player will feel something similar to an electrical shock on their arm, typically followed by numbness and/or weakness in the arm. This happens when the head is pushed to the side or down, and most have been considered to be part of the game and relatively harmless. And realistically, having one or two most likely are relatively harmless if treated correctly with proper recovery.
There are two main risks of the burner stinger, and they are interrelated:
Most trainers and players will agree that they go underreported, and 65% of players at a college level will experience in their career
87% rate of reoccurrence
These two points indicate we have a larger problem here. Well over half of our players are experiencing a BPI and it’s likely that they haven’t had it happen just one time.
We have got to do better at protecting our players. And the mantra of, “walk it off, son” needs to get thrown in the trash.This isn’t something you walk off and jump back in the game. For all too long, that’s the main treatment that was used for these injuries. We know now that ongoing BPI’s lead to loss of feeling, muscle atrophy, and even permanent disability.
If you’ve experienced BPI’s, talk to your trainer and your doctor. Ask questions. And most importantly, listen to your body. If you or your trainer would like to learn more, please contact us and we’ll connect you to resources to help.
Concussions & CTE: What We Know
Over my 35 years of experience as an athletic trainer, I needed to communicate with athletes, coaches, parents, and physicians in a way that each understood what had occurred. In the most basic of words, a concussion is any blow to the head or the body that causes enough injury to the brain to elicit symptoms such as being dazed, confused, clumsy, lightheadedness, and/or impaired vision.
When it comes down to it, the diagnosis of a concussion is subjective. Currently there are no objective diagnostic tests that can be performed to confirm a concussion or determine severity. Most diagnostic tests are performed to rule out a serious brain injury, that could lead to permanent damage or catastrophic results. These tests are designed to diagnose Traumatic Brain Injury. Signs are different from symptoms. Signs are what can be observed, and symptoms are described by the athlete.
I don’t assume that everyone follows along with the current news about concussions and the information that we are learning about the destructive impact of CTE. These are serious; and most coaches and trainers have taken this very seriously throughout their careers. Yet we need to improve our game: There are safer ways to play while keeping the integrity of the sport alive.
What causes concussions? A concussion is a serious injury to the brain resulting from the rapid acceleration and deceleration of brain tissue within the skull. Rapid movement causes brain tissue to change shape, which can stretch and damage brain cells. This damage also causes chemical and metabolic changes within the brain cells, making it more difficult for cells to function and communicate. (Source: Concussion Legacy Foundation)
What is CTE? Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The best available evidence tells us that CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head sustained over a period of years. Most people diagnosed with CTE suffered hundreds or thousands of head impacts over the course of many years playing contact sports or serving in the military. And it’s not just concussions: the best available evidence points towards sub-concussive impacts, or hits to the head that don’t cause full-blown concussions, as the biggest factor. (Source: Concussion Legacy Foundation)
With a drop in youth football participation, few improvements to the gear that protects players on the field, and a lack of innovation, we believe there is ample room for improvement.
One airbag doesn’t save your life in a crash. Just like a helmet alone will save you from a concussion. When you are the field, you build confidence through technique and the right gear. Training, such as Heads Up, educate our players about a safer way to tackle. We realized there is a blank space out there; rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain within the skull.
As shown above, with state-of-the-art testing done at Chesapeke Labs our collar is able to slow deceleration of the brain by up to 30%. Our objective is athlete safety. We designed Kato Collar to help provide protection against concussions, and decelerating the brain by nearly a third is going to make a positive impact on addressing that. We are committed to athlete safety and will continue to research and innovate ways to do that in football, as well as other high impact sports.
As more comes out in the research, theories are developing about what occurs inside the skull that causes injury to the brain after impact. I believe there is more to uncover with our approach to training, equipment, and how we improve recovery procedures. By first understanding and utilizing a common language, we’ll begin to realize how to approach concussions as they happen.