Spinal Injuries in Sports

17 July 2017

Spinal Injury blog series - part four

Spinal CordSports/sporting injuries are the third largest cause of spinal cord injury in the UK.

Through the implementation of better health and safety standards in sport, there has been a decrease in the number of spinal cord injuries sustained during sports such as American football, rugby, motor sports and equestrianism. The ban on “spearing” (where a player lifts another player into the air and drops them, causing them to land on their back, head or neck) and other dangerous tackles to the upper body in American football, rugby union and rugby league, have lowered the risk of sustaining a catastrophic injury when playing contact sports. Manufacturers of body protectors and helmets have also made great strides in providing better support to competitors, which has also led to a decrease in the number of spinal cord injuries and head injuries occurring during sports such as horse racing, eventing and motor sports.

Unfortunately, the risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury in sport does still remain, despite these improvements in safety standards. Different contact sports have different mechanisms of injury, with physical contact sports such as rugby and wrestling seeing injuries to the cervical spine. Horse racing and eventing can result in injuries to the lower back and spine, when riders have “rotational falls” (where the horse hits a fence with its front legs or chest, causing the horse and rider to somersault over the fence). However, damage to any part of the spine can always occur, when there are high velocity impacts to the body and spinal cord.

Advances have been made in the ability to diagnose and treat severe spinal cord injuries. A popular New Zealand event rider, Andrew Nicholson, sustained multiple fractures to his cervical spine, as a result of a crashing fall from his horse mid competition in 2015. Andrew revealed in an interview to Horse and Hound magazine that his surgeon had informed him that 98% of people sustaining this type of injury, would have been paralysed . Andrew has successfully returned to eventing and recently won the coveted Badminton Horse Trials in May 2017.

Sport, by its very nature, will always carry a degree of risk of injury. However, science and medicine have, so far, combined to give competitors the ability to enjoy their chosen sport, in as safe an environment as possible, without detracting from the game. Let us hope this balance remains. 

If you, or a member of your family, are affected by any of the issues covered in our blogs please contact one of our specialist spinal and back injury lawyers on enquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk or call us on 0207 814 1200.

Read the first edition of our spinal injury blog  series "Spinal Injury: an overview" here.

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