Concussions more common than spine injuries

By Amy Moritz NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
Updated: 09/22/07 6:50 AM



John Hickey/Buffalo News
ECC players work on form tackling — getting a wide base, lowering the hips and keeping the head up.


Severe injuries to the spinal cord in football grab national headlines in part because they are very rare.

According to research from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury for the 2006 season, the rate of injury with incomplete neurological recovery was 0.55 per 100,000 participants. There were 10 reported cervical cord injuries in 2006 at the college and high school level.

The act of spearing, or leading a tackle with the head, was made illegal in 1976 and coaching techniques to enforce leading with the chest and keeping eyes up have greatly reduced the number of severe football injuries.

“Cervical spine injuries, generally speaking, when they happen are rare but are tragic events when they do happen,” said Dr. Marc Fineberg, chief of sports medicine in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“If you study the problem, you realize what happens when a spearing mechanism is involved, a player lowers his head and the first point of contact is the face mask or the tip of the helmet and that puts a load on the spine. Defensive backs and players on special teams especially have a risk for this.”

Prevention includes proper tackling techniques — keeping the head up. Fineberg reinforces that it’s not just coaches teaching the proper form but officials calling penalties and parents supporting the coaches and referees on the field.

Because severe neck and spinal cord injuries are so rare, there’s no reliable research to look at links between things like strength training for the neck and injury prevention. But Fineberg said that from what the medical community knows about strength and flexibility exercises in relation to injury prevention in other parts of the body, adding routines to work on the neck is likely helpful.

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