(Photo taken from thestar.com)
Just as I am now a “pseudo-blogger”, once upon a time I was an even “psuedoer-scientest.” My research was in cognitive neuropsychology with a focus on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, the impetuous of my interest in this super specific field of study was Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Or, as the laymen would know it, concussions.
Seeing is that I have been playing hockey for 25 years now (with some football and lacrosse sprinkled in), concussions are something that I am very personally interested in as I have (by my count) experienced eleventy billion head traumas in that same time frame. My dreams of becoming a professional academic have come to their logical end…
(Here’s me trying strike a Heisman pose with the human brain that I was supposed to be dissecting)
…but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped following concussion and Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (CTE) research very closely.
Head trauma research is particularly fascinating because it is currently being conducted in such a time that science has progressed enough that we understand that we don’t understand enough about the problem. The even more interesting aspect of the issue is that there is a chance that we might have the ability to alter our outcomes through innovative technological advancement. Meaning that equipment manufacturers are now advanced enough to where we might be able to significantly reduce the number of concussions through commercial innovation.
Which brings me to an article that I came across that Adam Feschuk wrote for The Star. Feschuk introduces the work of Dr. Julian Bailes et. al. who’s solution to reducing concussions is not better protective headgear, but rather to make your head a better helmet. So, to explain the extremely complex physiological sequence of what happens to your brain when you get a concussion and why some people are more susceptible to head injuries than others, I present to you the esteemed, Dr. Hibbert:
“The Homer They Fall” is one of my favorite Simpsons episodes ever for many reasons, one of which is the scene where Dr. Hibbert explains to Homer why he is able to take so many blows to the head without any negative effects. Dr. Hibbert tries to teach Homer and Marge about dura mater which is essentially the bubble wrap that prevents your brain from rattling around in your skull like pebble in an empty jar. Homer is able to take such devastating blows to his head due to a genetic abnormality of having an higher dura mater density to the point where Dr. Hibbert was going to demonstrate this ability with a medical two by four if he had more time.
Dr. Bailes et. al’s. innovative solution to prevent concussions is to externally increase dura mater levels by wearing a collar that increases the blood volume to the brain to essentially increase the an athletes sub-cranial cushion to mimic that of Homer Jay Simpson’s. You can read more about how this collar technically works but put simply, imagine a hose with water running through it and you kink that hose to the point where a bubble will develop filling with water. The theory here is that instead of water, your brain will fill with blood that will create a better internal helmet (although I’m curious if this will increase the risk of subdural hematomoas and/or subarachnoid hemmorages; interesting theory none the less).
This novel approach should be of particular interest to hockey players because as astounding as helmet technology has/will become, I have never seen a single hockey player (myself included) wear their helmet properly.
Big Eric here would have more than likely experienced concussions regardless of what or how he wore his helmet, but I’m curious if the effects of those concussions would have been less if he strapped it on properly.
Notice the gap between Lindros’ chin and the strap of his helmet. Keeping this in mind, let’s imagine that a “perfect helmet” that was guaranteed to eliminate concussions was developed; such an advancement would probably garner a Nobel Prize. But if the athletes don’t wear the darn thing properly then what’s the friggin point?!
If Dr. Bailes’ theory and development of this collar holds-up, it could have an even more unforeseen benefit to concussion prevention in that it would be effective in the number two cause of concussions, whiplash.
Most people think that you need to be hit in the head to receive a concussion and don’t realize that (particularly in collision sports) that when a person knows they are about to experience a collision, their adrenaline kicks in and their body automatically sends blood to your brain to better brace for impact. Even less people understand that a text book body check of driving one’s shoulder through an opponent’s chest will some times lead to whiplash which causes concussions because the unexpected impact results in your body not starting the, physiological process of bracing for impact.
As we observe the gif of Evgeni Medvedev that Ryan Gilbert from Sons of Penn made, notice Medvedev gets hit twice rapidly. It appears that Medvedev gets elbowed in the face first and then is hit again in the chest fractions of a second after making it impossible for him to brace himself for the second collision. My guess is that he would have gotten a concussion from the initial hit regardless, but the reason why it is taking so long for him to recover is because the second, more abrupt hit is the cause of the majority of the Post Concussion Symptoms that he is experiencing.
Really, at the end of the day, everything you just read is the product of a, “psuedoer-scientest’s napkin science theories” that possibly don’t make sense due to the eleventy billion concussions that he himself has had. Regardless, there are actual scientists like Dr. Bailes and many others are bridging the gap from theory to application.
Will this collar be the answer to reducing concussions? Maybe.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that whether this is the answer or not, it is something that hasn’t been tried before and therefore a step in the right direction.