Published June 15, 2016
British Journal of Sports Medicine

It may be possible to prevent sports-related brain injuries by augmenting traditional helmets with a device that protects the brain from the inside.

That’s the conclusion of a study that examined how high school football players fared during a season-long test of a novel jugular vein compression collar. A related study involving high school hockey players appeared June 6, 2016, in Frontiers in Neurology | Neurotrauma.

While helmets offer important protection for athletes, they do little to prevent “brain slosh,” which occurs when the brain collides against the inside of the skull.

The new device, called a Q-Collar, was inspired by observations of woodpeckers and big horn sheep that avoid brain injury despite frequent head impacts. The collar applies pressure similar to a dress-tie knot that slightly increases blood volume, promoting a tighter fit of the brain inside the cranium.

Greg Myer, PhD, director of Sports Medicine Research, leads ongoing study of the collar. Weihong Yuan, PhD, and James Leach, MD, experts in neuroradiology, developed an imaging protocol to measure the collar’s effects.

“We still have more data analysis and investigation to do, but this device could be a real game-changer in helping athletes,” Myer says.

The hockey study involved 15 players. In the football study, half of the 42 players wore collars during a season while half, as a control group, did not.

Both groups experienced similar levels of head impact. However, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) revealed significant preseason to postseason changes in mean diffusivity (MD), axial diffusivity (AD) and radial diffusivity (RD) in the white matter of players not wearing the collars compared to those who wore them. Similar findings were observed in the hockey players.