Young athletes need to be aware of spine injury risks

Aug 11 2011
Some athletic activities - especially contact sports like football - carry a significant danger of neck or back pain, and it is as true for professional players as it is for high school students.

Media reports recently covered the story of a Georgia high school senior and linebacker for his football team who was diagnosed with a fracture of the C-6 vertebra, a spinal cord compression and a herniated disc.

It turned out that the had played with the fractured vertebra for some six games, and sustained the other injuries as a result of hits he received during those encounters, according to the Columbia County News-Times.

The youngster ended up having a spinal surgery in December 2010, whereby doctors removed the herniated disc and inserted a metal cage to stabilize his cervical spine. He also had to wear a neck brace during the lengthy recovery period.

According to the news provider, part of the problem may have been that the young man had delayed having an MRI or a CT scan and opted for taking an anti-inflammatory medication instead. Many orthopedic surgeons say that while neck or back pain that has not resulted from a trauma should be treated conservatively first, any discomfort that follows an injury - even in the absence of other neurological symptoms - should be treated more seriously. This should include diagnostic tools such as x-rays or computed scans to make sure there is no underlying abnormality that may lead to further complications or even permanent disability in the future.

A 2009 report from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, prepared for the American Football Coaches Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association and The National Federation of State High School Associations, suggested several ways to reduce neck and head injuries in young athletes.

These include proper conditioning exercises that strengthen the neck to allow players to hold their heads firmly erect on contact. Also, coaches should drill their teams on skills such as blocking and tackling to ensure that they are made with the head up and not with the top of the head or the helmet.

The recommendations also urge coaches to discourage athletes from using their heads as "battering rams" while executing tackles or blocking opponents.

Finally, officials should ensure that helmets fit properly, and that players who experience head trauma receive immediate medical attention and are not allowed to play again until they receive a clearance from their doctor.