February 24, 2023
An on-campus pilot study during Drue Tranquill’s undergraduate days at the University of Notre Dame got the engineering student thinking.
Thinking and hitting other football players with a high degree of force were/are specialties of the College of Engineering graduate. So when representatives of a revolutionary device called the Q-Collar came to Notre Dame in 2017, the wheels in Tranquill’s head began spinning…
…And the well-developed brain stopped bouncing off his skull so forcefully as a participant in a high-collision sport.
The Q-Collar, developed by Dr. David Smith, is the first and only device in play today to prevent traumatic brain injury. It works through mild compression against the jugular veins, which causes a very small “backfilling” of blood into the cranium.
“It works like an airbag in a car,” Dr. Smith said. “The energy of the impact goes right through your brain rather than being absorbed.”
The result has led to a dramatic decrease in concussions among football, soccer and lacrosse players in particular – athletes most susceptible to concussions – as well as military personnel subject to “blast waves.” The “brain fog” that athletes sight as a repercussion of frequent high-impact contact is reduced through the Q-Collar.
“I was at an Army research lab, presenting on a different topic altogether,” Dr. Smith said. “Somebody joked about how we haven’t been able to move the needle on traumatic brain injury. Eight months later, I started studying all these highly G-force-tolerant creatures out there in the forest, especially the woodpecker and head-ramming sheep.
“There were littles muscles in their necks. All of us have these muscles and we never knew why they were there until our research started. We gave that physiology to football players, all sports, as well as the military, which has partnered with us as well. We’re actually blocking IED forces from entering the brains of soldiers.”
Before Tranquill – the two-time captain of the 2017-18 Notre Dame football teams – became intrigued by the Q-Collar, a more highly-visible football player’s interest was piqued. Luke Kuechly, the Boston College great who took his skills to the NFL, was having concussion issues that were preventing him from maximizing his potential.
Selected ninth overall in the 2012 draft, Kuechly had no concussions – at least that he was aware of – during his high school, college and early NFL years. But then he missed about a third of his games in 2015 and 2016 due to concussions.
A high school trainer called Kuechly’s parents with information about the Q-Collar. Kuechly flew to Cincinnati and took part in a study. The FDA eventually assigned it as a Class 2 medical device. The product was safe and effective to wear. It was found to help protect the brain from sub-concussive, repetitive impacts.
The concern for football players with the rubber device was comfortability, how it would negatively affect one’s play, and keeping the device in place. Kuechly began using it and found no negative impact. It didn’t come off. It became part of his equipment, part of his life. The last three seasons he wore it, he missed one game due to concussion-like symptoms compared to nine games in the two seasons before.
Today, Kuechly does presentations with Suzanne Williams, a former Under Armour Senior Director of Collegiate Sports Marketing who is now Vice President of Sports Marketing for Q30 Innovations.
“The Q-Collar increases blood volume in the skull and creates a tighter fit,” Williams said. “So instead of having room to slosh, it helps stabilize it. It has the compression about the same as a necktie. Extra blood helps stabilize your brain. Like a seat belt or air bag, it helps remove that extra room. Your brain doesn’t have freedom to move.”
Dr. Smith tapped into the theory that Dr. Julian Bailes used to discover Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – CTE – in the brain of the late Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster. Dr. Bailes – featured in the movie, “Concussion” — launched performance studies to make sure added pressure didn’t adversely affect heart rate, blood flow, breathing rate, or create dizziness or change reaction time. When no adverse effects were found, he was authorized to start clinical studies.
“It’s been an educational process,” Williams said. “I present five-to-ten athletes a week. It’s been a grassroots, bottom-up process. I’m starting to work with medical teams. I educate people on facts and then they have to decide to wear it.
“In a study last summer, they found that 1,700 pro soccer players were three to five times more likely to suffer from dementia. None were concussion diagnosed. They were all sub-concussive, asymptomatic, repetitive head impacts.”
The Q-Collar has begun to infiltrate all levels of athletics as well as 20 Department of Defense groups — Seal teams, special ops, rangers, marshals…Those on firing ranges for up to 10 hours straight have suffered from headaches, fatigue and brain fog. The Q-Collar has been effective in combatting it.
Tranquill’s a believer. With wife Jackie and three young children (Eli, Anna and Mackenzie), Tranquill chose a proactive approach. After first being introduced to the Q-Collar at Notre Dame, he now wears the device as a starting linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It’s the first medical device product on what the body can do instead of what we can put on the body to help prevent and protect the brain,” Tranquill said. “For me, that was a really cool concept. I really liked the idea of the Q-Collar having studied the science behind it after having studied engineering when I was at Notre Dame. It was interesting to me.
“We spent decades developing and innovating technology that we can use to protect and prevent energy transmission through the brain. But the Q-Collar really looked at what the body can do for itself through the mechanism of jugular compression.
“So for me, I wasn’t going to be naïve to the fact that that is a major health concern in playing the game and choosing the profession I’ve chosen. I just wanted to make sure I was in the best equipment possible. That next step for me was wearing the Q-Collar. I’ve worn the Vicis (helmet) for years, which I believe to be the best helmet technology out there. But the Q-Collar was kind of that next step, that next layer of protection for me.”
Comfortability with the Q-Collar was an issue at first for Tranquill. But once he found the right fit, the Q-Collar became just another part of his practice- and game-day apparel.
“It’s actually super easy to wear and just another piece of equipment,” Tranquill said. “It’s uncomfortable to wear a necktie the first two minutes. You put it on and you feel an overall increase of pressure in your head. You just get used to it. You don’t even notice the pressure difference.
“It’s basically creating a tighter environment so the brain can’t slosh around and bang against the inside of the skull.”
Early on, teammates wondered what the heck Tranquill had on his neck.
“The conversations with teammates were funny,” Tranquill said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Are you wearing headphones or a hearing device?’ I explained to them, ‘No, it’s actually a device that helps protect my brain and limits the impact of sub-concussive hits.’
“I had some teammates wear it this year and they were like, ‘I don’t like this thing on my neck.’ I was like, ‘It’s going to take a week or two to get used to.’ Then there were guys like Josh Palmer, our No. 2 receiver this year. He had a concussion early in the season and he wore it the rest of the season and really enjoyed it.
“The idea that you’d wear something on your neck that would somehow protect your head was a little bit confusing. There’s just a learning curve, an educational curve that has to take place for the product to really get in the hands of people that really need it.”
The product has worked for Tranquill. Concerned about some of the post-game “fogginess” that occurs with football players over the course of the season, Tranquill has found relief.
“I don’t have headaches after games. I feel more clear-headed,” Tranquill said. “This is why we have to let organic communication go. Athletes have to hear it from other athletes.”
For Williams, who changed gears after 16 years at Under Armour to join Q30 Innovations, there’s a practical application as well. She has sons ages nine and 12. They want to play football. The Q-Collar gives her the comfort to allow their future participation in the sport.
“I’m on a mission,” Williams said. “I’ve got to do this.”
Tranquill’s former teammate – running back Tony Jones Jr. – also has dabbled in the usage of the Q-Collar. Tranquill has become one of the company’s ambassadors for the product.
“It’s classified as a medical device as opposed to just a sports wearable,” Tranquill said. “It’s FDA approved. The studies show great results and every kid should wear it.
“I wouldn’t be surprised over the next decade to see a lot of players in it.”