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Is neck strengthening the key to concussion prevention?

Is neck strengthening the key to concussion prevention?

Michael Grant, USA TODAY Sports Published 8:01 p.m. ET Jan. 9, 2015

LOUISVILLE — Before he was a doctor, Tad Seifert was a high school football player in Oklahoma. His stint as a wide receiver ended abruptly after a concussion.

"Quite honestly, it scared my mom," he said.

Instead, Seifert ran track at Oklahoma State University. Now, the 40-year-old is a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky and i

s Director of Norton Healthcare's Sports Concussion Program.

Seifert is one of the scheduled speakers at the National Strength and Conditioning Association Coaches Conference being held at the Kentucky International Convention Center this week.

Seifert came to the conference to speak about how neck strengthening may help prevent concussions. Women athletes get concussions at a higher rate than males. One theory which may explain why has to do with neck strength.

"There is a sizeable body of evidence that suggests that stronger necks decrease concussion risks," the neurologist said. "Females have weaker necks relative to males. When they're hit, they have more of that whiplash-like movement of the head and neck. It's that reverberation of the brain inside the skull that causes the injury of concussion."

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Seifert added that a stronger neck is able to absorb more of that force, thus lowering the risk of a concussion. Seifert said there are exercises that will help strengthen the neck.

"Even a middle-school athlete can use manual resistance exercises — either alone or with a partner," Seifert said. "Those are very simple things to do. Even 10 to 15 minutes a couple of days a week seems to be somewhat effective in increasing neck strength and circumference."

In some high schools, colleges and professional ranks, Seifert said there are exercise machines made specifically for neck conditioning.

Seifert hopes that speaking at the conference will bring more attention to his cause.

"There are only so many factors that can be controlled from a concussion-risk standpoint," he said. "But neck strength is one of those few variables that we do have some control over."

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The NSCA was founded in 1978 by Boyd Epley with 76 strength coaches. This week, there are over 800 attendees — with roughly 70% from the college ranks, 20% from high schools and 10% with professional sports teams. Phil Emery, formerly the Chicago Bears general manager, is the keynote presenter.

Epley is best known for being the former strength and conditioning coach for Nebraska football for 35 years. He worked with Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers (1972), Mike Rozier (1983) and Eric Crouch (2001). Epley has returned to Nebraska be the assistant athletics director in charge of strength and conditioning.

"We cover a wide spectrum," Epley said of the NSCA. "Almost anyone that has an interest in strength and conditioning is part of the NSCA."

The NSCA conference started Wednesday and runs through Saturday.

Michael Grant writes for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, a Gannett affiliate.

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