Concussion from Playing Football - Look to the Upper Neck

Posted in Head Pain Disorders Chiropractic on Oct 31, 2017

There are two major groups in Australia who are particularly susceptible to suffering a concussion from playing football:

  1. Men and boys who play AFL (Australian Rules)
  2. Women and girls who play soccer.

Not only is suffering a concussion from playing football career-ending, but it is also potentially life-threatening. Former AFL player for the Brisbane Lions Justin Clarke was forced to retire from the game at just 22 years of age from a single nasty injury where his head slammed to the ground.

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Several weeks later he was still experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, fatigue, memory loss, and blurred vision. You don’t have to look very far to find former professional athletes - male and female across all codes of football (especially in the United States) - warning parents and amateur athletes about the severity and long term consequences of suffering a concussion from playing football.

From women’s pro Soccer (1) to Gridiron (2) to NRL (3), the evidence is mounting that concussion is far more dangerous than players and coaches believed going back as little as 5 years!

Why Men’s AFL and Women’s Soccer for Concussions from Playing Football?

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AFL, also dubbed “the beautiful game” or “aerial ping pong” is unique among codes of football because of the high-flying acrobatics as players leap into the air from all angles to catch, kick and tackle. The problem is with the latter … that and the crashes back to the earth.

Unlike rugby or even gridiron, which are severe enough but where most contact comes from direct head-to-head clashes, AFL involves side and even behind tackling. When players do not see that they are about to be hit, they are unable to brace for the impact. As a result, the injuries they suffer are almost always more severe because they sprain the ligaments that support the head, brain, and neck.

The only comparable sport is Ice Hockey, which also has an alarmingly high rate of concussion. The point is that the nature of the game involving tackling opponents midair and from behind - plus the hard landings - is what makes AFL players particularly susceptible to suffering severe head and neck injuries.

Now for women’s soccer. Although the reason is not fully known, research has shown that women have a significantly higher rate of concussion from playing soccer than their male counterparts. The major culprit here is heading the ball, which has since been banned in certain amateur versions of the game.

It is only a hypothesis, but I believe that differences in the bone and ligament structure of women vs men account for the difference. Whatever the reason, the fact that concussion happens demands attention and care.

Standard Tests Don’t Show Everything if you Suffer a Concussion from Playing Football

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The story on Justin Clark reported by The Age in March 2016, described how Justin “was taken to the hospital fearing spinal damage and concussion. X-rays cleared him of spinal trouble and head fractures but the concussion was severe.” (4) Its that highlighted sentence that I need to address.

First, let me be stated clearly that I have never personally assessed or even met Mr. Clark. Therefore, I cannot include or exclude any possible findings he may or may not have. However, I will remark that I have seen dozens - if not hundreds - of people including athletes who have suffered a concussion from playing football who have had all the routine x-ray, CT and MRI tests to rule out “spinal trouble” but still have a problem in the upper neck, which ends up having a massive influence on their symptoms.

I am going to address why that is, and what you need to know if you or a loved one has suffered a concussion from playing football or any other type of sport.

Rule out Fracture THEN Look to the Upper Neck (Atlas)

First, all credit goes to the paramedics, on-field doctors, and first-responders, who are quick to get players off the field if a concussion is suspected. Undoubtedly, they save more lives than any of us know! What happens after that also makes a massive difference!

To rule to fractures and dislocations, of course, is a big deal (!) because these are the things that unless medically treated immediately may result in severe disability or even death. However, there are smaller but no less significant problems that happen if players suffer 1-3mm joint sprains - specifically in the neck.

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These types of problems do not usually appear on standard x-rays, ultrasounds or MRIs, but they can cause the same types of problems as a larger injury:

  • headaches,
  • migraines,
  • depression,
  • dizziness,
  • vertigo,
  • heaviness in the head,
  • memory problems, and
  • difficulty focusing.

Often, these symptoms are attributed to “soft tissue damage” or “whiplash that will heal on its own with time, stretching and exercises.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The reason is that if the ligaments that support your upper neck stretch, the vertebrae can shift.

It is believed that this type of misalignment - even a couple of millimeters - is enough to cause a pull or tension on your spinal cord, which interferes in its ability to function. Research from Dr. Scott Rosa is showing how a specific correction to the alignment of the vertebra in the top of the neck - called the atlas - improves the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which is the watery substance that cushions your brain.

In so doing, he is finding that athletes, who have suffered concussions from playing football among a myriad of other problems experience significant relief from the symptoms they have been experiencing. (5)

How do I find if my Upper Neck has been Injured?

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For any person who has suffered an injury - whether that is a concussion from playing football, a car accident whiplash injury, a fall from a bike - it is strongly recommended that in addition to any medical doctors or physiotherapists that you see that you also see experts in the neck called Upper Cervical Specific doctor.

An Upper Cervical doctor is a specialized type of chiropractor who has completed post-doctorate certification in diagnosis and treatment for disorders of the upper neck. Upper Cervical doctors perform a series of neurological and diagnostic imaging tests that go into much greater detail than those taken at standard x-ray facilities in order to find out exactly what type of injury you have suffered, and then what the best way to correct it is by using the least amount of force possible.

The procedure involves a specific correction that is custom-tailored for you - that does not involve any drugs, surgery, or needles - and the does not involve any twisting or manipulating the neck.

Upper Cervical Care in Brisbane

Atlas Health Australia is the leading Upper Cervical Specific practice in Queensland. Dr. Jeffrey Hannah has been in private practice for 10 years and holds Advanced Certification in the Blair Upper Cervical approach. To date, he personally has been able to help people suffering from a variety of ailments where the “no one else has been able to find anything” that include headaches, migraines, dizziness, vertigo, fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia, multiple sclerosis, and post-concussion syndrome.

If you have suffered a concussion from playing football or from any other activity but have not had your upper neck assessed by an Upper Cervical Specific doctor, please contact ours at 07 3188 9329. We are conveniently located in North Lakes (Brisbane) just off the Bruce Highway and dedicated to helping you in any way within our power to get you back to enjoying the things in your life that matter most to you.

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  5. Caccese JB, Buckley TA, Tierney RT, et al. Sex and age differences in head acceleration during purposeful soccer heading. Res Sports Med. 2017 Oct 25:1-11. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2017.1393756.
  6. Gouttebarge V, Aoki H, Lambert M, et al. A history of concussions is associated with symptoms of common mental disorders in former male professional athletes across a range of sports. Phys Sportsmed. 2017 Sep 13:1-7. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2017.1376572.
  7. Smith FW, Dworkin JS (eds): The Craniocervical Syndrome and MRI. Basel, Karger, 2015. DOI:10.1159/000365463.


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