Study quantifies incidence of spine and axial skeleton injuries in NFL

August 23, 2012

Topic: back surgery

Spinal cord injuries are one of the most dangerous and damaging orthopaedic injuries a person can get, sometimes even resulting in full paralysis or partial loss of motor control due to the connection to the central nervous system and the brain.

Most NFL fans are aware that professional football can be brutal, potentially causing injury to multiple areas of the body. One team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri decided to study the incidence of injuries affecting the spine and axial skeleton among NFL players. Their findings may have implications for the use of back surgery or other orthopaedic treatments.

For the study, the researchers reviewed the NFL's injury surveillance data from 2000 to 2010. They collected information regarding injuries to the spine, spinal cord, pelvis and ribs.

Data analysis revealed that there were more than 2,200 spinal or axial skeleton injuries during the study period, accounting for 7 percent of all injuries. The mishaps that were associated with the greatest amount of play time lost, in descending order, were thoracic disc herniations, cervical fracture, cervical disc degeneration/herniation, spinal cord injury, lumbar disc degeneration/herniation, thoracic fracture and thoracic nerve injury.

Offensive linemen were the most likely to get hurt. Blocking and tackling were the two biggest causes of injury.

"Tackling and blocking result in the greatest number of injuries, and players performing these activities are the most likely to sustain a spinal injury," the researchers wrote. "The results of this study may be used as an impetus to formulate strategies to prevent spinal injuries in American football players."

This study is published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

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