Jun. 6, 2012 – Hillary Neal started playing soccer at the age of 8 and played at Olympic High School from 2004 to 2008. During that time, it was unfortunate injuries to her ankles and knees that introduced her to her career in physical therapy. “I hated being injured on the sidelines, but it showed me how I can help others that were,” says Neal.
Recent media coverage has brought attention to the situation in girls’ soccer; female soccer players are second to football players in the occurrence of concussions. “Hillary brought up the importance of neck stability which has been added to our Prehab for Soccer Program,” says Chris Stulginsky, PT who is managing partner at Ayrsley Town Rehabilitation in Southwest Charlotte. “Our injury prevention programs are grounded in research but they have really taken shape with our clinical team’s athletic and professional experience. Not only are we looking at it from a biomechanical standpoint, but from the athlete’s perspective as well.”
Neal’s experience in high school soccer helped to guide program development. “Many think that doing traditional neck strengthening will help. Though it can, it is often uncomfortable and may not be the best way to address this issue.”
She explains that a specific type of strengthening best simulates the sport specific demands placed on the body in soccer. “Our program focuses on neck stability. Many of the injuries are occurring because the athlete cannot stabilize their neck when the contact occurs.” Neal continued to explain that stability is important for many aspects of the game. “There has been a lot of focus on heading the ball, but if the stability is lacking, issues can occur without any contact to the head. Even without direct contact, an attempt and a miss could result in whiplash like movement which could also lead to a non-contact concussion.”
Stulginsky states that people are often surprised to hear about the different processes in which concussions can happen. “Many feel that concussions require a direct blow to the head, and always result in loss of consciousness, ninety percent of concussed athletes never lose consciousness. A great deal are a result of quick rotation or movement that results from contact to areas other than the head. Those numbers go up, the younger the athlete.”
Other aspects of the program focus on injuries in which many have more knowledge. “Thirty percent of the injuries at the collegiate level are due to overuse. Our program addresses many of the structures that commonly fail in ACL injuries and with ankle sprains,” says Stulginsky.
But for now, the focus of many parents and athletes is on concussions. “Between neck stability and offering the same baseline concussion testing utilized by the NFL, we really feel we can help a lot of young people be as safe as possible,” concluded Stulginsky.