Broken, Sprained Necks: These Sports Pose the Most Risk

From - March 7, 2018

Broken, Sprained Necks: These Sports Pose the Most Risk

WEDNESDAY, March 7, 2018 -- While football is frequently blamed for concussions, a new study shows that it's also the sport in which athletes are most likely to suffer neck injuries.

A neck fracture, commonly referred to as a broken neck, is a break in one or more vertebrae in the upper part of the spine. Neck sprains involve injury to the soft tissue surrounding those bones. The neck is referred to medically as the cervical spine.

"We expected that American football was the leading cause of cervical spine injury, and it was for overall injuries [fractures and sprains]," said study author Dr. J. Mason DePasse. He's a trauma fellow in the department of orthopaedics at Brown University's Alpert Medical School in Providence, R.I.

"Most neck fractures during sports do not involve paralysis," DePasse added. "Certainly that can happen, but most peoplecan have arm weakness."

DePasse and his colleagues combed through data collected by the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 2000 to 2015. More than 27,000 patients with neck injuries sustained from sports were identified, including 26,380 neck sprains and 1,166 fractures.

Compared to women, men's injury rates were 1.7 times higher for neck sprains and 3.6 times higher for fractures.

Trailing football as the most common cause of neck sprains in men were cycling and weightlifting/aerobics. Women suffered the most neck sprains in weightlifting/aerobics, trampoline and cheerleading.

Broken necks among men resulted mostly from cycling, followed by diving/swimming and then football. In women, neck fractures were most common from horseback riding, followed by cycling and diving/swimming.

DePasse said he was struck by the dramatic jump in sports-related neck fractures over the study's time frame. Fracture incidence grew by 35 percent and was driven by an increase in cycling-related injuries. Part of the increase might be explained by better detection of broken necks through imaging, he said.

"Most people with fractures that are invisible on X-ray are going to be fine anyway, but we are probably catching more of them now," DePasse added. "But there's clearly been an increaseand this would be the time to raise awareness and call attention to this rising issue."

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