Despite the use of helmets, athletes who take part in contact sports regularly suffer concussions, sometimes leading to the development of lifelong brain diseases. To help combat this danger, a company called Q30 Innovations has created a protective collar that has shown promise at reducing the risk of serious brain injuries when heavy impacts occur on the field.
The device is designed to lessen “sloshing,” whereby the brain rattles around inside the skull when the head is struck. This occurs because the brain is not actually connected to the skull, but instead sits floating in cerebrospinal fluid. Therefore, while helmets may protect the skull itself, they are unable to prevent sloshing, which means the risk of the brain becoming injured remains high.
This effect is thought to be responsible for the high rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) suffered by NFL players, some of whom have also been found to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition that is often caused by head trauma.
The collar applies pressure to the jugular vein, constricting it in order to slightly reduce the flow of blood away from the head. This means the amount of blood around the skull is increased, creating a kind of buffer between the skull and the brain, and subsequently reducing the amount of sloshing room.
By exerting pressure on the jugular vein, the collar may increase the amount of blood in the head, creating a cushion between the brain and the skull. Q30 Innovations
Inspiration for this idea came from animals such as woodpeckers, which are well adapted to endure repeated blows to the head. Since the woodpecker brain fills the whole skull, it has no room to slosh and is therefore less likely to become damaged.
Studies have already shown that rats fitted with devices that constrict the jugular vein are less susceptible to developing TBI after experiencing head trauma. Furthermore, concussions are around 30 percent less common in football matches played at high altitudes, which researchers believe may be due to the fact that reduced air pressure causes the brain to expand slightly, filling more of the skull.
Studies are now being conducted on football and hockey players to measure the effectiveness of the collar at reducing the level of injury sustained during heavy collisions.