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May 11, 2021 • CoachingFootballTechnology

Q-Collar Corrals Next Step in Concussion Safety Tech

With all of the increased attention paid to concussions in all sports — particularly at the high school level — and the rate of concussions during gameplay continues to rise. 

That’s, at least, according to a November 2019 study published in the journal Pediatrics. The study examined thousands of high school athletes across 20 different sports and found that nearly two-thirds of concussions occurred during competition despite finding the rate of repeat concussions have dropped across all sports. 

Did the study point to a specific reason why concussions occurred more frequently during gameplay than practice? Dr. Tad Seifer, a neurologist with Norton Sports Health & Norton Neuroscience Institute said the competitive intensity that comes with gameplay was a big factor. 

q-collar“In football, there have been significant changes made to reduce contact exposure during routine practices, which has reduced the amount of player-to-player collisions and other mechanisms that contribute to head injury,” Dr. Seifert said. “However, the intensity of a competitive game atmosphere is also something that’s very difficult to reproduce in a practice setting.”

Football remained the sport with the highest concussion rate, 10.4 per 10,000 athletic exposures, followed by girls’ soccer (8.19), and boys’ ice hockey (7.69). 

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by a forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, or from an object that pierces the skull and enters the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2006 to 2014, the number of TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53%. Blunt trauma accidents, or accidents that involve being struck by or against an object, particularly sports-related injuries, are a major cause of TBI. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that anywhere from 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related TBIs are estimated to occur in the United States annually.

As more and more information becomes available to the public, there are those continuing to push the limits in player-safety technology. Meet the Q-Collar — an externally worn device that aids in the protection of the brain from the effects associated with repetitive subconcussive head impacts. 

Their premise is rather simple. Upon impact, the brain moves and hits against the skull, causing brain injuries. This is sometimes referred to as a “slosh.” If you reduce the movement of the brain you can reduce the likelihood of sub-concussive hits to the head. Despite its name, the Q-Collar is shaped in a C-form and fits around the back of your neck in a noninvasive way. The collar applies light pressure to the jugular vein, which causes a slight increase in blood volume inside the skull — about two teaspoons worth. This increase in blood volume pads the brain and shrinks the space between the skull, thus, reducing the risk of brain injury. 

In its lifespan, the Q-Collar has undergone eight years of research, including seven pre-clinical studies, five tolerability studies, 16 clinical studies, and have examined more than 1000 participants and more than 500,000 impacts over 20 G’s. And the results have been clear — Q-Collar shows no negative impacts on athletic performance. 

But perhaps the most important study has come from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2021. It was then when the FDA authorized marketing of the new device, intended to be worn by athletes aged 13 years and older. 

q-collar“[This] is an additional piece of protective equipment athletes can wear when playing sports to help protect their brains from the effects of repetitive head impacts while still wearing the personal protective equipment associated with the sport,” said Christopher M. Loftus, M.D., acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. 

To get the approval of the FDA, the Q-Collar had to pass rigorous safety and effectiveness measures, including a prospective, longitudinal study in the U.S. with 284 subjects 13 years or older who were part of a high school football team. Throughout the season 139 athletes were the Q-Collar and 145 did not while everyone wore an accelerometer device that measured impact to the head sustained during play. Additionally, each participant took part in an MRI scan pre- and post-season. The results showed significant changes in deeper tissues of the brain involved in the transmission of electrical nerve signals in 106 of the 145 (73%) non-collar participants, while no significant changes in 107 of the 139 (77%) collar-wearing participants. 

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Though not a cure-all by any means — the FDA states the Q-Collar does not replace typical protective sports equipment — the differences from the study indicated protection of the brain when worn by athletes. It should be noted, however, that the device has not been tested on athletes with the following pre-existing conditions: increased pressure in the skull; open head injury within the last six months; pseudotumor cerebri, known seizure disorder, known trachea abnormality, or airway obstructions, blood clots in the brain, and excessive alkalinity in the blood.

The device can be worn for up to four hours at a time and has a shelf life of roughly two years. The Q-Collar has already gained notoriety in the Canadian Football League as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill and Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris have both worth the device during the season. 

“These are the small things we can do that science is backing that’s helping with head trauma in athletes. And if we can save the game small bits at a time. I want to support that,” Harris said during a media session with the Eskimos.