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The Iron Neck

I am new to the Iron Neck and have only used it with my athletes and patients for the past 2 years.  I have to tell you, it has been a wonderful addition to both rehab and performance. Last hockey season it was the one tool that kept concussion type symptoms at bay in one of our top and most crucial performers.  This resulted in this player being able to take the team on his back during a long and grueling playoff run.

I have seen this product quickly gain traction in the contact sports. Most of us who work with athletes in this realm appreciate the need for a strong neck both from an injury prevention and peak performance standpoint.  To that end I have seen some very creative applications. While I don’t claim to be any type of authority on the issue I would propose that we need to look at the head and neck in a slightly different light. My educational background has taught me to look at the neck like an extremity.  Before you yell obscenities and stop reading allow me to explain.

Looking at the neck like an extremity

When I refer to the head and neck as an extremity, my point of reference comes from the study of developmental neurology.  

In this discipline the progression of human movement has been clearly mapped from birth to 1 year.  There are some very key milestones that must be hit for a child to develop “optimally”. One key phase in the development of a baby is the moment when they are able to free their head from the ground and see more of the world around them.  This expanded view of the world increased their motivation to move but signifies the coordination of some very key muscle chains in the body. These important muscle chains are based around structures in the trunk like the ribs, scapula, and sacrum.  If muscles in these areas are working well, they allow the head to move independently of the rest of the spine. There has been a coordinated stability into the sagittal plane. 

In another key phase of development the child learns to roll from their back to their stomach and at some point they learn to stop and rest on their side.  This displays advanced coordination of the muscles on the front and back of the trunk. This same posture allows the head to rest while avoiding the stress of gravity in the frontal plane.  During this advanced muscle development while the baby is on their stomach they learn to free one arm from the ground and begin reaching for objects in their field of view.  

The freeing of this arm to reach is the first exposure of the balance between the shoulder function and the function of the head and neck.  The eyes drive the position of the head in space and encourage rotation toward the side of the body that the eyes are focused on. This coordinated rotation precedes the movements at the arm, but is only accomplished due to the support provided by the arm still fixed to the ground.  

Okay sounds interesting (maybe), but why should I care about this in relation to utilization of the IRON Neck?  

What I think this developmental conversation gives us is a framework to the loading progression.  Early in the rehab process it is important to give the neck the stability it requires by supporting the trunk and shoulders in a stability pattern that allows the best expression of this particular muscle function.  Yes in 99% of sport and performance requires the arms or legs to be free to move, the phases of motor development hinge on the ability of the shoulders and hips to provide stability to the trunk. It is my opinion that if we jump to standing based exercise too early, we miss a key opportunity to add strength to the neck in a way that is more in line with how these structures learned to work in the first place.  

On a side note this is the same reason I have a hard time subscribing to Isometric protrusion with the IRON NECK.  I can’t find a stage in motor development where protrusion is the natural movement of the neck. Topic for another conversation I guess.  

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