Participating in sports activities can be a positive factor in physical health and emotional well-being, but playing sports comes with some inherent risks, like spinal cord injury. While falls and motor vehicle accidents cause the most traumatic spinal cord injuries, sports-related spinal cord injuries are also a concern.
Spinal cord damage is not a common sports injury, but when this event happens the person suffers extreme physical consequences. The individual, their family, and even society incur severe financial burdens. Lifetime costs with traumatic spinal cord injury tend to average between $1.5 million to $3 million.
Sports That Are High Risk for Spinal Cord Injury
It is possible to have a freak accident and sustain a spinal cord injury when merely going for a walk, but some sports have a higher rate of spinal cord injury than others. While a person can sustain a spinal cord injury in a sport not included in this list, the epidemiology of sports-related spinal cord injuries names some sports with high rates of injury, such as:
- Diving, which causes the most sports-related spinal cord injuries in the world.
- Horseback riding
- American football
- Motor racing
The Level of Injury by Type of Sport
Depending on the sport, there are particular regions of the spine that usually tend to get damaged. A study looked at six sports and explored the predominant level of spinal cord injury for each. The research revealed that:
- Damage that is typically at the cervical spine region occurs commonly diving (98.2%), playing American football (96.3%), playing hockey (81.5%), and skiing (81.1%).
- Spinal cord injuries of horseback riders scatter across the three areas of the spine: cervical (46 %), thoracic (25.8%), and lumbosacral (24.4%).
- Snowboarders have a small incidence of spinal cord injuries to the cervical region of the spine (2%). The proportions for the other parts of the spine are lumbosacral (41.5%), thoracolumbar (28.9%), and thoracic (27.6%)
The Long-Term Prognosis for Sports-Related Spinal Cord Injury
The long-term outcome for the patient can vary widely. Overall, the neurological prognosis for people with sports-related spinal cord injuries include:
- Incomplete tetraplegia (46.9%)
- Complete tetraplegia (37.4%)
- Incomplete paraplegia (5.9%)
- Complete paraplegia (5.7%)
- Complete neurological recovery when discharged from the hospital (less than 1%)
“Incomplete” means that you have lost some, but not all, motor or sensory function below the level of injury in your spine. If your injury is “complete,” you have no feeling or motor function (ability to control the muscles) below the injured part of your spine.
“Tetraplegia,” also called quadriplegia, is when the paralysis affects everything below the neck, including your arms, legs, torso, and pelvic organs. An injury high up in the spine, in the cervical region, can cause tetraplegia.
“Paraplegia” means that the legs, torso, and pelvic organs have partial or complete paralysis. A lower back spinal cord injury can result in paraplegia.
How Sports-Related Spinal Cord Injuries Can Happen
You can sustain a traumatic spinal cord injury from a sudden blow to your neck or back. Depending on the force and angle of the impact, as well as many other factors, you might suffer a dislocated, crushed, compressed, or fractured vertebrae (bone in your spinal column).
If the blow that harms the vertebrae forces some of the bone into the spinal cord, it can cut or sever the spinal cord. There is currently no treatment that restores the spinal cord to its pre-injury condition.
Here are a few examples of how sports-related spinal cord injuries can happen:
- A tackle in football or rugby that snaps the head back or to the side violently
- Landing on the head or neck when doing gymnastics
- Diving into shallow water or from a great height
- A vehicle crash when motor racing
- Colliding with an object a high speed when skiing
These are but a few examples of the many ways that participating in sports can cause a spinal cord injury.
Spinal Cord Injury Simplified
The vertebrae surround and protect the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that travels from your brain down your back through spaces in the vertebrae. Nerves exit these bones at specific locations in your back and enter your arms, legs, and other areas of your body.
Nerves carry messages from the brain to all the parts of your body so that you can move your limbs, feel pain and pleasure, breathe, control your bladder and bowels, and have sexual function. If you have a complete spinal cord injury, none of the nerves below that location in your spine can receive the messages from the brain that provide control, function, and sensation.
Pintas & Mullins handles severe injury cases such as sports-related spinal cord injuries. Our clients receive hands-on, personal attention. Call us today at 866-513-0846 for a free consultation.