The issue of head and neck injuries in the NFL isn’t going away any time soon. Thankfully there are new technologies being developed to tackle this big problem.
Recently, I sat down with Dr. Patrick Kerr from Kerr Sports. We spoke about a new system he created to help helmets and shoulder pads interact with each other to create safer, less-impactful collisions and help potentially prevent injuries. The science behind the Kerr Collar is something that’s extremely interesting.
In talking with Dr. Kerr, he noted that the head and neck are connected when it comes to injury. That it’s not just about how the impact hits the head, but how the neck absorbs that impact. It’s important to remember that the neck isn’t designed to absorb the shock that football players put it through on the field from their collisions.
“It’s like putting your body through multiple car accidents in a short period of time. The human body isn’t designed to play the game of football or absorb the forces that we put on it,” Dr. Kerr noted, while describing how the torsion and torque applied to the spinal column through hits is also a contributing factor to the concussion problem plaguing the NFL today.
Dr. Kerr explained to me that the neck is just as important as the head when it comes to concussion prevention. Without having something to prevent the axial compression — the vertical compaction forces at the point of impact — then the neck has to absorb it. And while the first thought would be to change the way people tackled, Dr. Kerr says that it wouldn’t have as much of an impact on force reduction.
So Dr. Kerr invented something that would absorb this impact from the helmet. Instead of forcing it into the neck like the current system, the Kerr Collar absorbs the impact from the helmet and transfers it into the shoulder pads. He described this as “creating a crumple zone, much like a car or truck would have.”
When comparing the impacts in the NFL to car crashes, it does make sense to take the impact designs that cars have to transfer their largest forces in collision to protect the most important part of the interior compartment. In the car’s case, it’s the people inside. In the player’s case, it’s the brain and neck.
The Kerr Collar appears to do just that by connecting into the shoulder pads. On impact, it transfers all forces right to the player’s shoulders instead of his head and neck. By removing the vast amount of forces from the head and neck, more injuries should be prevented. The theory behind this should help prevent concussions.
However, Dr. Kerr says that this isn’t a concussion prevention device, but rather a transfer system for forces on impact that should allow for less injuries on the neck and could also impact how head injuries are obtained. The concussion question won’t be answered by something as simple conceptually as Dr. Kerr’s design.
But Dr. Kerr may be onto something here when it comes to his collar. Eventually, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these integrated into shoulder pads 100% as a one piece system to interact with the helmets. Even if concussions, sub-concussive hits and neck injuries went down just 10% from this device, it would be more than worth the money involved.
And if combined with the new helmets being designed specifically to reduce concussions (like this one here), it could make even more of a positive difference.
To learn more about the Kerr Collar, click here. It’s a very unique device, but it could save the game that we all know and love.