If you play a contact sport, how do you minimize the chances of a concussion? Here are Dr. David Eagleman’s five simple steps for helping you play safe and play smart:

Video transcription

1. Follow the rules

The first line of defense is to follow the rules and regulations of your sport. These are put in place to prevent harm and set safety standards. For example, the Pop Warner football league prohibits coaches from conducting an entire full-contact practice. This limits the amount of contact throughout the season, which results in fewer blows to the head.

Many leagues prohibit football players from trying to jump over a tackle or defender. This rule was put in place because players would land directly on their heads when their attempt to hurdle another player was unsuccessful.

Furthermore, many youth soccer leagues don’t allow players to hit the ball with their head. They’re trying to reduce the concussions that occur due to the brain getting jostled around, and also because players who are heading a ball, often collide into each other with their heads. So follow the rules of your sport, and don’t forget sportsmanship. Late hits, illegal hits and rough play are often a cause of injuries. Play safe and play fair.

2. Practice proper technique

Proper Tackling Technique in Football

The second step to preventing concussions is good technique. Let’s take American football as an example. In 2003, the Center for Disease Control started its Head’s Up program to educate parents and players about concussion. “Head’s up” of course means to be aware of something in the field of play, but it’s also a football term used to describe the technique players need to have when making a tackle.

The issue is that modern football equipment has advanced a lot over the past two decades: helmets have a carbon fiber exterior and are cushioned on the inside with hyper-foam padding or soft air bladders. So players feel so comfortable in these helmets that they essentially use them as weapons, harpooning themselves into players and trying to make tackles with their heads down. Coaches and parents are now quite sensitive to this technique and work to disallow it.

The three most critical points are:

  • keep your head up,
  • keep your body positioned low and balanced,
  • and with your head to the side, wrap your arms around the defender to bring them to the ground.

3. Use the right equipment

To prevent concussions, wear properly fitted equipment. No football helmet on the market today can prevent a concussion. Instead, they’re designed to prevent skull fractures, and they’re great at doing that job, but only if the helmet fits properly. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to do more damage than protection.

4. Strengthen your neck muscles

Medical research has suggested women may be more susceptible to concussions than men because men have more muscular necks compared to women. Stronger neck muscles can help decelerate the linear and rotational forces that cause the brain to move inside the player’s cranium.

Neck strengthening is easy and doesn’t require expensive gym equipment. Some simple exercises to help strengthen this particular group of muscles are shoulder shrugs, dumbbell presses, and resistance band exercises using forward, backward, lateral and rotational movements. For proper strength and conditioning technique, and advice, please consult your local strength coach or personal trainer.

5. Measure your cognitive health

Tool to test or track brain health on the sidelines

Finally, to reduce the worsening of a potential concussion, it’s important to have some way of baselining your cognitive performance, and then testing at the sideline to see if your scores have changed. This way you can avoid the situation of returning to play when you shouldn’t.

So, if you play a sport, follow the rules, use the right equipment, do neck exercises, and keep track of your brain health. Your brain is the best investment you have for your future. Keep it safe.

Let’s tackle brain health together. Learn how you can start tracking your brain health here.