Sports and Spinal Cord Injury

18 May 2021

Sports/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, with science making great strides in rehabilitation medicine. A popular Irish Show Jumper and former Olympian, Kevin Babington, sustained a spinal cord injury and became paralysed from the chest down, when he fell from his Grand Prix horse Shorapur, during a Show jumping event in New York in 2019. Over the last 2 years, Kevin has made incredible progress and despite the odds, he can now move his right arm and some of his fingers and toes. Kevin has high hopes for his future recovery, having been accepted into a clinical trial for stem cell therapy which he shares with the NY times in an article.

Sport, by its very nature, will always carry a degree of risk of injury. However, through greater research and innovative technology, this has enabled competitors 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 or call us on 0207 814 1200.


If you would like any further information or advice about the topic discussed in this blog, please contact Laura Sylvester or our Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team.



Laura Sylvester is a Senior Associate in the Clinical Negligence Department. She has a broad range of expertise, with particular focus on brain injury claims relating to children with cerebral palsy.

Laura also has a special interest in colorectal/abdominal and gynaecology claims. She has also developed a specialism in late diagnosis of infection cases and fatal claims and has an active caseload including cases of this nature. 


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