Whether you’re a professional athlete or a parent just trying to keep an active child safe, concussions are a growing concern these days. Post-concussion problems endured by football players and other brain injury survivors are not new. However, concussions sustained by local hockey wonderkid Sidney Crosby have brought more attention to the potential danger of head injuries over the past year.
Recently, researchers in China decided to answer a question asked by scientists and birdwatchers around the world: Why aren’t woodpeckers harmed by their head banging? They discovered that there were three factors that enabled woodpeckers’ brains to survive intact after repeated blows to their heads:
1. The top and bottom parts of a woodpecker’s beak are uneven in length, and the longer bottom beak deflects force away from the bird’s brain on impact.
2. Unlike us, the woodpecker brain is encased in spongy plate-like bones. These are arranged unevenly around the brain and leave no space between the brain and skull.
3. A seatbelt-like hyoid bone connects the beak to the skull where it then surrounds the brain.
Together, these factors ensure that the woodpecker’s brain is affected as little as possible by the constant impact of head banging.
Unfortunately, even if these factors were incorporated into the design of sports safety helmets, there is no way to get around the fact that human brains are separated from our skulls by a gap that is non-existent in woodpeckers. And it’s the motion of the brain within this space that would still remain a factor in potential injuries.
So, unless you’re a woodpecker, the best way to avoid head banging injury to your brain is to not bang it in the first place.
For more information, see Why Do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury: A Biomechanical Investigation.