See What You Hit

Written by admin on September 24, 2012 – 9:41 am -

Football is one of the most dangerous and violent sports. Though it has been considered the classic “contact sport,” it is more accurate to say it is the ultimate “collision sport.” While concussions currently garner the media spotlight, injuries to the neck and spine are ignored– until disaster strikes. Recently, defensive backs at Catawba and Tulane Universities both suffered severe cervical spine injuries. Last season, at Rutgers University, Eric LeGrand was injured while making a tackle, and he remains paralyzed from the neck down.

The cervical spine is comprised of the first 7 spinal vertebrae. The nerves that exit the cervical spine are vital to both basic and sophisticated body functions including respiration and movement. Cervical spine injuries typically result from an axial load, which is a force that originates at the top of the head and continues longitudinally down the spine. “Spearing” is the term used for a tackle in which the player leads with the head, and the top of the head makes initial contact with the opponent. This type of tackle has been banned in the NFL to ensure the safety of NFL athletes as well as the young players that emulate them. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, has said that football needs a “culture change” in order to become a safer sport at all levels. Rules changes are welcome, but to decrease the prevalence of these injuries, It is perhaps more important that coaches, parents, and players be educated in proper tackling technique. The NFL has joined with USA Football, the governing body of youth football, to form the “Heads Up Football” initiative to teach proper tackling technique and increase awareness of head and neck injuries. According to Heads Up “The right way of tackling begins with ‘the breakdown’: feet set, hands sunken, the arc of the back straight and the knees bent. The head is up at all times.” A player must always be able to “see what you hit.” If you can’t, your technique is incorrect.

Given the inherent danger of participation in football, it is important to have a well-coordinated medical team present at every game. These medical professionals include the athletic trainers, first responders, team doctors and EMS. Fortunately, these teams were present on the sidelines at Catawba, Tulane, and Rutgers, their skilled, rapid, and coordinated efforts were essential in achieving the best outcomes.

Dr. Mark Galland is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon specializing in sports medicine, practicing in Wake Forest and North Raleigh. He serves as team physician and Orthopaedic consultant to the Carolina Mudcats, High-A Affiliate of the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball, as well as several area high schools and colleges. Dr. Galland can be reached at (919) 562-9410 or by visiting or or you can follow him on twitter: @drmarkgalland.

Kate Anderson, ATC/LAT is a post-graduate fellow at GOSM, Galland Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine. Follow her on twitter @kattethegreatt.

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