What Are the Common Causes? How Can They Be Avoided? How Are They Commonly Treated?
There are few things more engaging and exhilarating than athletic competitions, whether it’s high school, college, or amateur sports. In the heat of the moment, with adrenaline pumping, it can be easy to suffer a serious injury. Because most sports involve the whole body, the spine often takes the brunt of a hit, fall, or other mishap.
Which Sports Have the Highest Levels of Spine Injuries?
If you guessed football or hockey, guess again. A study reported in a 2021 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery looked at more than 12,000 cases of sports-related traumatic spine injuries (TSIs) and found that far more occurred during participation in cycling, skiing, and aquatic sports. In fact, four out of five sports-related TSIs are caused by cycling accidents.
What Are the Most Common Types of Sports-Related Spinal Injuries?
The Journal of Neurosurgery study also reported that the majority of spinal injuries sustained in athletic activities primarily affect the upper spine and neck area. Researchers say this is a consequence of the posture taken in most sports, with the spine leaning forward, often up to 30 degrees, in a position that reduces the capacity of the neck to dissipate any force applied to it.
The most common TSIs suffered in sports include the following:
- Cervical/neck “stingers”—When a player’s head takes impact, nerves in the cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7, located in the neck) can be either stretched or compressed, causing temporary discomfort similar to an electric shock.
- Minor fractures—Stress fractures and other minor fractures can result not only from impact but also from repetitive motion or stress to the spine.
- Herniated discs—Impact and motion during sports can cause displacement, movement, rupture, or bulging of the rubbery cushions between the vertebrae.
- Strains and sprains—Various sports involve activities that can result in sprains and strains, most often in the muscles of the lower back.
How Are TSIs in Athletes Commonly Treated?
Treatment of a TSI depends on the nature and severity of the injury. With minor trauma, non-invasive approaches often bring substantial or sufficient relief. Physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, rehabilitation, and even rest can be all that’s needed to alleviate pain. Preventing further injury, though, may require a specific regimen to strengthen the muscles in and around the neck or in the lower back. More serious injuries may require surgical intervention.