A former Worcester Warriors rugby player has developed spine-strengthening equipment which aims to prevent the occurrence of certain sporting injuries.
Douglas Higgins, aged 28, was inspired to create his SpineStrength equipment after a meeting with former Leicester Tigers player Matt Hampson, who was left paralysed from the neck down following a training session five years ago.
The young entrepreneur from Cradley near Malvern said: “Meeting Matt Hampson crystallised my ambition to produce really effective spine strengthening equipment. That was when I decided to go for it 100 per cent – and if we manage to prevent many other players going through what Matt’s suffered, all this hard work and fine tuning will have been worthwhile.”
Mr Higgins, an Imperial College mechanical engineering graduate, had the idea originally after realising that there was no existing apparatus to develop the strength in the neck and back, which is of major importance to rugby players.
He pitched the idea as his Masters thesis and began research into trialling the equipment with top club and school players.
He explained: “We’re seeing increasing numbers of severe injuries from tackles and when scrums collapse, like the heartbreaking one that left Matt Hampson paralysed.
“Players are more competitive than ever before. Experienced players develop strength in their neck and spine muscles through going in scrums over several years but at present there’s nothing in the gym to condition you for this.
“Young players often don’t get enough game time to develop these muscles so our equipment helps strengthen them in gym before going onto pitch.”
“I was in front row of my school Ampleforth’s first 15 for two years and I experienced the pressures the scrum puts on your neck first hand.
“When front row players use our equipment, a pad pushes down on the back of their head and they extend their necks and push their heads upwards to hold the same weight in one position for five or six seconds.
“This expands and strengthens the muscle, allowing it to cope with greater stress in the future.”
Following several years of development and building prototypes in a Stourbridge factory shared with his family’s environmental engineering business Jones and Attwood, Mr Higgins launched a version of the equipment, known as The Beast, at London’s Rugby Expo in November.
The former captain of the Imperial College first team, who ended his former job as a carbon trader two years ago to pursue marketing his invention full-time, is currently working on a professional player’s version of his equipment, called Beast-Pro.
Mr Higgins said he has committed three per cent of his profits to the Matt Hampson Trust which helps those who suffer spinal injuries from rugby.
Development is expected to continue as Mr Higgins works with the England RFU, with the intention to run further clinical trials and evaluation of the product at the biodynamics department of Imperial College.