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Spinal cord injuries and football: causes and prevention

This week, thousands of Minnesotans will flock to stadiums and sports bars to watch the opening games of the 2013 NFL season. But those games, and the sport itself, have been under increased scrutiny in recent years. According to medical professionals, football players are at a high risk of sustaining a head or spinal cord injury while they're out on the field. This fact may not seem surprising, but it is significant. Spinal cord injuries are among the most dangerous and life-threatening of all injuries, and a number of recent high-profile cases have led players and administrators to push for safer gameplay.

The danger is particularly high for teenage players, whose bodies are not yet fully developed. This was tragically demonstrated in a recent case out of Georgia, in which a teenage football player died after taking a routine tackle. The boy was found to have three fractured vertebrae.

A team doctor for the Atlanta Falcons explained that although prevention techniques have come a long way in the last ten years, spinal cord injuries are still a very real danger for players. He explains that it doesn't take very much to cause a spinal cord injury -- a slight hit at just the wrong angle can cause significant damage.

The key to preventing such accidents in the future, according to the doctor, is twofold: First, screen players for danger signs, such as impaired neck motion. Second, ensure that all players are using proper hitting techniques, that is, striking with the body and shoulders, rather than their heads.

Football organizations have taken great strides in recent years to ensure their players' security, but as the recent tragedy shows, they still have a long way to go. Players have a right to expect a certain amount of safety on the playing field; administrators should take special care to ensure this right is not infringed upon.

Source: CBSAtlanta.com, "How spinal cord injuries happen, precautions to take" Jennifer Mayerle, Aug. 19, 2013

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