Neck and Back Injuries

From Mild to Serious

By Laura Childers

The spine, or vertebral column, is a long bony structure made of 26 bones that runs from the cervical vertebrae in your neck and upper back through the lumbar vertebrae in your lower back to the coccyx bone at the bottom of the spine. Sports can cause a variety of injuries to the vertebral column or its surrounding tissues, ranging in severity from temporary muscle strains and sprains to serious spinal cord injuries (SCIs).

Whiplash, frequently caused by contact sports with high-velocity collisions, is a neck strain that occurs following a sudden acceleration-deceleration force, where your neck muscles and ligaments are forced into hyperextension. Symptoms of neck pain and stiffness can usually be treated with P.R.I.C.E. (see “Top Sports Injuries”). If pain persists, a doctor should be contacted to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Back strain, sometimes called “weightlifter’s back” is a sports injury that occurs when the muscles and tendons in the lower back are stretched or exerted beyond their limits. Sports that use repetitive impact, like running or weightlifting, are frequent causes of back strain. Other sports—like football, golf, tennis, or basketball—can also cause back strain through their repetitive twisting motion. Pain caused by a back strain can usually be treated with P.R.I.C.E., and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can be used to reduce inflammation. However, if pain persists a doctor should be contacted.

“Burners” or “stingers,” named for the warm electrical sensation they create down the neck, shoulder and along the arm, are temporary injuries to the brachial plexus— the bundle of nerves that run from the back of the neck into the arm. Common in contact sports, they are normally caused by an abrupt tilt of the head or an impact from the side. While the sensation may feel intense at first, burners and stingers usually last only a few minutes. If pain persists, is severe, or is felt in both arms, it’s important to see a doctor.

Spinal injuries can be serious. Certain spine injuries including neck fractures and cervical spinal cord injuries are among the most dangerous injuries of all, requiring urgent care by health professionals. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 8 percent of all spinal cord injuries are related to sports.

If you are involved in sports that pose the risk of a neck or back injury, make sure you take measures to protect yourself—wear the right protective equipment, use proper technique, and ensure that your environment is safe.

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