With club rugby completed for another year and reps’ rugby getting underway, now is a good time to review some mid-year injury prevention tips and sharpen some of your training to improve towards next year.
In the April issue of Fitness Journal, I talked about the importance for the high school athlete to focus on neck strength, as poor neck and jaw muscles have a direct link to the likelihood of suffering a concussion.
This month I would like to delve a little deeper into neck posture and strength. Recent research shows that there is a direct link from weak neck muscles to increased risk of concussion. And it has also been shown than strengthening neck muscles helps prevent concussions.
A growing number of concussion experts (Meehan, 2011), strength and conditioning trainers (Cohen, 2012), and physical therapists, believe that one important way to reduce the risk of sport-related concussion is by strengthening the neck.
The theory being that stronger neck muscles will help cushion against and lessen the linear and rotational forces which cause concussion.
I’ve been teaching the motocross riders I train this set of exercises for years and have noticed that for the riders who follow the programme, the incidence of concussion and neck injury goes down.
All you need for this exercise is a Swiss ball and a wall. It’s about creating an isometric contraction of the neck muscles as you push your head into the ball. Hold each exercise for 30 seconds and go to the next one; front, left, back and right side (see photos below).
Don’t try and pop the ball, it is not a maximal contraction. Push just hard enough to feel the muscle tense but your head should remain still. Once you have done this once, repeat four more times, so a total of five sets. This only needs to be done three times a week and if you push too hard into the ball you will have a sore neck the next day. Over time build up to five sets of 60 second holds in each position.
If you get any pain or dizziness while doing it, you are either pushing too hard, in the wrong position or are carrying a neck injury and need to see a professional to clear it and get you started on the correct exercises.
Too many people are taking their heads for granted and just paying lip service to concussion prevention.
This is something simple that every player should be doing throughout the season. Good luck and stay healthy.