Can Woodpeckers Help Prevent Brain Injuries?

Traumatic brain injuries are caused by the head taking a severe pounding via contact with a hard object. That fact led some brain injury researchers to consider a bizarre question: why don’t woodpeckers get brain damage? As everyone knows, the woodpecker is a bird that finds its sustenance by pounding their heads repeatedly against hard objects. If any other animal-including humans-engaged in such conduct, they would be left with severe injuries. But woodpeckers are not harmed at all.

What is it about this animal that protects them, and can we harness that power to protect ourselves from similar injury from collisions?

These are questions that scientists have been trying to puzzle out for some time. It has not been an easy biological endeavor to figure out exactly what give these curious birds their resilience. In the past various theories have been floated about, including claims of powerful facial muscles and peculiarities with the pecking technique. However a new study seems to have pinpointed a more likely reason-the specific design of the bird’s skull and beak. The full study can be viewed here.

To get at the mystery of the animal’s situation, researchers compared the spotted woodpecker to a similar bird that does not drill into trees-the Mongolian skylark. They used advanced imaging techniques to compare all facets of the animals’ bodies in detail. What they found was that microscopic difference in the woodpecker’s skull seems to give the animal the ability to have its skull to withstand forces 1,000 times greater than gravity (1000 g’s). Our Illinois brain injury attorneys know that human’s cannot withstand anywhere near that force. Even one-tenth of that (100 g’s) is considered potentially lethal for humans.

The study found that the key to the animal’s resilience was a spongy layer of bone around the brain. The bone is made up of a unique tissue called trabeculae. The tissue acts as a tightly woven armor mesh. The Mongolian skylark has the same tissue, but it is not woven as tightly, providing far less protection. The woodpecker’s beak also plays a partial role in its protection. The beak is made of trabeculae that “deforms” in small ways when making contact. The beak therefore absorbs some of the blow that would otherwise make it to the brain.

While this information may seem more interesting than useful, our Chicago brain injury attorneys appreciate that there very well may be much to learn from this research. In fact, the biological experts themselves explained that they hope the new information will play a role in developing better protective headgear for people.

They specifically noted that millions of traumatic brain injuries are caused each year by excessive head trauma that the brain cannot absorb. This occurs even in situations where helmets are worn-like in football games and on bikes. Our current technology is nowhere near perfect in crafting helmets that prevent all head injuries. New bio-inspired designs and material may one day be useful in improving the prevention capability of this equipment.

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