They didn’t do any testing on woodpeckers or big horn sheep, but these hard-headed animals were the inspiration for a new device that inventors hope will revolutionize the way we protect our brains from impact.

Linebacker Adam Bighill recently began testing the device, called a Q-Collar, during practices and games with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“It’s got a lot of interest,” Bighill said. “Some of my teammates have requested to wear it; some are already wearing it”

The metal and plastic device forms an almost complete circle around the neck and was inspired by the actions of woodpeckers and rams. Scientists speculated there must be something protective around their brains to prevent them from getting “sloshed” around in the skull when pecking or headbutting.

Dr. Joe Fisher, a Toronto anesthesiologist and co-inventor of the Q-Collar, said impact causes damage in two ways: when the brain hits the skull and when tissues like blood vessels in the brain get stretched and torn.

He and colleague Dr. David Smith speculated that extra fluid in the brain acted like packing material when shipping a delicate object in a box.

The Q-Collar exerts a slight pressure on the main blood vessels in the neck.

“If you compress them a little bit, a little bit of blood backs up,” Dr. Fisher said. “And guess what, it fills up that extra space.”

It’s only about two teaspoons worth of extra blood in the brain, but he was astonished in their initial tests on rats.

“We thought that maybe if we had a 10, 15 maybe even 20 per cent reduction in brain damage, it would have been a great thing but in fact it was 85-90 per cent reduction in brain damage.”

Those dramatic results prompted the inventors to move quickly to manufacture and market the device.

The Q-Collar now has a Medical Device Establishment License from Health Canada that allows it to sell the Q-Collar directly to consumers in Canada. The device is awaiting approval in the United States.

But, it has received widespread attention in the sports world. Bighill, who has only suffered one diagnosed concussion in high school, said it’s not just the big hits that cause damage. He’s also concerned about the numerous small impacts that a football player endures during their career.

“It’s really about the prevention side of things,” Bighill said. “I want to be able to prevent a lot of the hits that you think might not be damaging.”