Rugby Concussion Treatment - The Role of the Upper Neck

Rugby Concussion Treatment - Facts & Stats

If you are looking for rugby concussion treatment in Brisbane, there are a few very serious things you need to know. First, concussions are not solely a matter of neck pain or headaches. Seconds, they are not things that “just get better on their own.”

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Research published in September 2017 that examined 576 former athletes who played contact sports revealed that concussion is associated with multiple problems later in life: anxiety (28%), depression (28%), sleep disturbances (29%) and what are known as “common mental disorders” that include alcoholism (24%).

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The researchers also emphasized findings from multiple other studies linking concussion to the development of neurodegenerative conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.  In the United States, concussion awareness in football players is a big deal! And not just among professionals: in children and teens too - boys and girls! A study from 2012 published in the Americal Journal of Sports Medicine found a few interesting things: 

  • The #1 most common sport for concussions (by far!) was boys’ football (47.1%);
  • The #2 most common sport for concussions was girls’ soccer (8.2%);
  • 6% of all football players suffered a concussion in a season;
  • Girls are 1.7x more likely to suffer concussions than boys.

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Although AFL, Rugby League, and Rugby Union are far less common in the United States, it seems pretty reasonable that these rates will be pretty similar.

The push for concussion awareness in Australia is on the rise from two groups: 1) former athletes who now suffer the ill effects of post-concussion syndrome, and 2) from parental groups who want to be certain that their children will not go on to suffer the same problems. A few important things that these groups emphasize are as follow:

  • Players can still suffer concussion even if they do not lose consciousness;
  • Symptoms do not always appear immediately, but may take days or weeks to develop;
  • The most evident symptoms are dizziness, nausea or headache;
  • Less evident but equally significant symptoms include difficulty with focusing (especially at school), a drop in grades, moodiness and other personality changes, and generalized fatigue. 

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Even though awareness is on the rise, options for rugby concussion treatment options are still relatively unknown. In years past, the only “treatment” was rest: i.e., no practice for a few days or weeks until all symptoms passed.

Unfortunately, this approach often leads to players suffering a second (or third) concussion as soon as they resumed activity ... and the more concussions that players experience over their careers, the worse their health for decades to come!

At present, there are major advances that have been made with rehabilitation among chiropractors and physiotherapists, who prescribe specific exercises as part of a rugby concussion treatment protocol. In brief, these exercises involve brain-training activities that coordinate that nervous system.

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However powerful (and essential!) rehab activities are, they may be only half of the solution. Even though the on-field trainers and paramedics may clear you of broken bones or dislocations, they do not always describe how major “soft tissue” or ligament damage is. And when, the physical trauma also affects the cervical spine (upper neck), which protects and affects the function of the brainstem.

The Upper Neck is Essential in Rugby Concussion Treatment

This is the importance of what is called “Craniocervical” or “Upper Cervical Specific” care. The upper part of the cervical spine - called the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - protects the brainstem, which controls all vital life functions.

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The brainstem also contains nerve networks that affect your ability to think clearly, stand up straight, see straight, etc. In a normal person, these vertebrae move freely. However, if you suffer an injury that damages the ligaments in this area (which often does not appear on MRI because it is too small … plus MRIs are performed lying down, so you can’t see the problem properly anyway), it causes the bones to move abnormally.

Experts in the craniocervical junction (upper neck) believe that this abnormal movement bombards the brain with faulty electrical signals that disrupt its normal functions. The fancy term for this process is called “dysafferentation.”

In brief, if the nerve cells in the brain do not communicate properly with each other, it leads to a whole host of problems often associated with post-concussion syndrome: from headaches to personality changes, and from speech difficulties to full body pain.

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That is not the only problem. Research is demonstrating that misalignment of the upper neck also affects the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the watery substance that cushions the brain. When CSF does not flow properly, it creates small currents or turbulence inside of the skull that also causes affects the brain. 

There are two very interesting things about the upper neck and CSF flow. First, experts hypothesize that this turbulence contributes towards the development of neurodegenerative conditions including Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Chronic Myalgic Encephalopathy (aka Fibromyalgia).

Second - and most amazing - preliminary research is demonstrating that post-correction of the alignment of the upper neck, CSF flow is restored which has improved the symptoms many people with MS and Fibromyalgia experience … but also, the lesions associated with MS actually reduce!

 One of the most vocal proponents of how Upper Cervical care has helped improve his life is Jim McMahon, former quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the USA, who described the crippling effects of the post-concussion syndrome as the result of numerous injuries throughout his professional career.

As shown on ESPN's documentary on the post-concussion syndrome in football players, towards the end of this brief video you may be able to see the difference in swelling on the brain (white stuff on the top) pre-and-post Upper Cervical Care.

Upper Cervical (Atlas) Specific Care in Brisbane, Australia

At present (2017), every team in the NFL in the USA has a team chiropractor who works alongside the medical doctors and physiotherapists to be certain that their players remain healthy.

Moreover, since the realization of how severe concussions are, there is and an increasing number of teams seeking the assistance of specific Upper Cervical chiropractors, who are experts the way that the upper neck, in particular, affects people who suffer post-concussion syndrome.

 Alas, professional Australian sports are lagging in this department, in part because there are so few Upper Cervical specific doctors in Australia. At Atlas Health Australia in northern Brisbane (North Lakes), we specialize in the relationship between the upper neck and the brainstem.

Dr. Jeffrey Hannah is an Advanced Upper Cervical Specific practitioner with 10 years of experience in working with disorders and syndromes of the upper neck, which includes rugby concussion treatment and post-concussion syndrome.  it is essential if you have suffered a concussion and require treatment that you also have the upper neck properly assessed by an expert in this area of the body.

Concussions are a serious matter and not something that just goes away on their own. They demand immediate attention: and not just from the paramedics, GPs, chiropractors, and physiotherapists who do the rehabilitation work.

It is essential that your rugby concussion treatment program includes specific upper cervical care as a part of your recovery. If you have any questions or would like to contact us for more information, please contact our office on 07 3188 9329.


  1. Gouttebarge V, Kerkhoffs G, Lambert M. Prevalence and determinants of symptoms of common mental disorders in retired professional Rugby Union players. Eur J Sports Sci. 2016 Aug;16(5):595-602. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2015.1086819. Epub 2015 Sep 30.

  2. 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.

  3. Marar M, McIlvain NM, Fields SK, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of concussions among United States high school athletes in 20 sports. Am J Sports Med. 2012 Apr;40(4):747-55. doi: 10.1177/0363546511435626. Epub 2012 Jan 27.
  5. Smith FW, Dworkin JS (eds): The Craniocervical Syndrome and MRI. Basel, Karger, 2015. DOI:10.1159/000365463.
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