Tulane player, Devon Walker, sustained a cervical spine fracture this weekend. This is one of the most serious on-field injuries that can occur in the game of football. The real concern here or with a fracture to any part of the spine, is how much the spinal cord was traumatized during the injury.
In cases where the spinal cord is bruised only, often a full recovery can be expected. With partial transections or tears of the cord, however, permanent deficits (paralysis) of the arms and or legs and even vital organs can occur. The keys to management of this injury on the field involve limiting any further damage to the spinal cord. When a suspected neck injury occurs, you will see that the medical staff takes extreme precautions while moving the player off the field to avoid any further trauma to the spinal cord. The helmet is left in place and the face-mask removed so that the head doesn’t fall back into extension exacerbating any fracture. The player is then carefully log-rolled and placed on a rigid spine board to be transferred to the hospital for an immediate CT to assess all of the bones of the neck before removing any of the players gear. Additionally, en route to the hospital or soon after arrival, the player receives high-dose steroids as there is some evidence that steroids can reduce the swelling in the spinal cord and improve the prognosis of acute spinal cord injury. Any fractures noted on the CT are then fixed surgically and or stabilized with a Halo device until the bone can heal. It is a waiting game from there. It can take 6 months or more for a spinal cord injury to heal and it is anyone’s guess what permanent deficits will remain until after that amount of time has passed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Devon. Our hope is that some awareness and preparedness on the high school and college level will result from such high-profile and serious injuries.
To read more about Devon’s cervical Injury, click here.
Dr. Clayton G. Lane, is a Sports Medicine & Shoulder Specialist with extensive and impressive experience working with athletes. He was the on-court physician for the 2006 US Open Tennis Tournament and has worked with the New York Giants, New York Knicks & New York Mets. Dr. Lane is currently the team physician for the Mobile Baybears. Click here to learn more about Dr. Clayton Lane
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