10 PM NETWORK JUNE 2016 WWW.PMI.ORG
Telling athletes to just “walk it off” is no longer acceptable. With evidence of the long-term
effects of sports-related concussions mounting,
organizations are addressing the issue head-on and
sponsoring projects to develop devices that aim to
either reduce the threat of head injuries or diagnose them.
A well-known problem in American football,
concussions are also the most common injury in
English professional rugby. And a variety of sports
and recreational activities contribute to the 3. 8
million concussions sustained in the United
States each year, according to the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Traditional helmets can only do so much.
“Since antiquity, the only efforts ever made
to protect the human brain have been to put
something on the head,” says Julian Bailes,
MD, chairman of the department of neurosurgery and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute, NorthShore University
HealthSystem, Evanston, Illinois, USA.
With a concussion, however, the problem
isn’t really that the outside of the head gets
hit. It’s that the brain strikes the inside of the
skull due to sudden deceleration or acceleration, which can stretch or tear brain fibers.
So Dr. Bailes and his project team came up with
a new solution—by drawing inspiration from the
animal kingdom. “Certain creatures in nature, such
as woodpeckers, hit their heads repetitively without suffering brain injury,” Dr. Bailes says. How?
A woodpecker’s brain fills the space of its skull,
whereas a human brain floats in the skull like an
egg yolk in a shell. The bird also compresses its neck
veins while ramming its head, increasing the volume
of blood between the brain and skull. The fluid acts
as a protective layer.
So Dr. Bailes and his team devised a neck collar
that can similarly protect people. The collar partially
blocks the jugular vein, restricting a small amount
of blood flowing from the brain to the body. The
backed-up blood reduces the brain’s movement when
When testing the collar among laboratory ani-