Editor's Note:Look for an upcoming JEMS article on treatment of athletes wearing helmets who have potential spinal cord injuries.
Though not common, a spinal injury can be devastating to an athlete.
Roughly 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year. Males are four times as likely as females to suffer spinal cord injuries. More than half (56 percent) of people who suffer spinal cord injuries are between the ages of 16 and 30.
The leading cause of spinal cord injuries is automobile accidents, 37 percent of the total. The second are muggings and other forms of violence (28 percent). Third is falls (21 percent), which plague chiefly the elderly. Fourth, at six percent, are sports accidents. But injuries on the playing field are the second largest cause of acute spinal injuries for Americans aged 30 or younger, says the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).
"The athletic trainer is very often the first responder when an athlete goes down on the field," said Erik Swartz, the principal author of a paper published in the current issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the scientific publication of the NATA. "Serious spinal injuries can be devastating, due to the high incidence of long term neurological impairment and premature death."
Football is the sport in which athletes are most likely to suffer acute spinal injuries. But skiers, rugby players, gymnasts, swimmers and divers, pole vaulters and even cheerleaders are at risk, the NATA said.
In order to reduce the likelihood of such injuries, and to avoid exacerbating those that have occurred, the paper in the Journal of Athletic Training lists seven guidelines for athletic trainers, coaches, athletes and spectators at sporting events to follow:
Jack Kelly can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org 412-263-1476.