The Hidden Truth About Spinal Cord Injuries and Concussions

There are many different kinds of spinal cord injuries (SCI), and not all of them cause partial or total paralysis of the limbs. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are 17,000 new SCI cases each year in the U.S., excluding those victims who die at the scene of an accident or incident.

In the U.S., nearly 300,000 people suffer from an SCI, with males accounting for 80 percent of all new cases. An SCI is defined as “damage to the spinal cord resulting from trauma or from disease or degeneration.”

Most people are aware that SCIs are caused by incidents such as falls, sports activity, vehicular accidents, violence, and medical or surgical procedures.

But many people are unaware of an SCI known as spinal cord concussion. This injury, which is diagnosed under the medical term ‘cervical cord neurapraxia’ (CCN), is becoming more of a concern as it is disproportionately affecting people who engage in sporting activities, such as football.

Although doctors have known about the risks of spinal cord concussion for years, not much has been shared publicly to warn people with the highest risk of suffering this type of injury.

In layman’s terms, a concussion of the spinal cord occurs during a collision or an impact of some kind where a player’s neck is either compressed or bent far backward or forward with great force. Players in positions that involve high-speed collisions and open-field tackling, like free safety, are most commonly affected.

How are the Symptoms of Spinal Cord Concussions Different from Other Spinal Cord Injuries?

The challenge with spinal cord concussion is that unlike other SCIs, the victim may not immediately know that the injury has occurred.

That’s because a concussion of the spine is classified as a ‘transient’ injury, which means that the spine suffers a physical disturbance that does not sustain itself for a long period of time.

Some of the symptoms of spinal cord concussion include numbness in the hands or feet, tingling in the hands or feet, and in some instances, momentary paralysis.

These symptoms may occur in just one limb, several, or all four limbs, and typically only last 24 hours.

But because spinal cord concussion is often misdiagnosed as nothing more than a ‘stinger,’ players who suffer this type of injury are at a much higher risk of suffering another concussion of the spine, which could be much worse.

In fact, according to Dr. Gordon Bell, Director of the Center for Spine Health at Cleveland Clinic, spinal cord concussions could have the same debilitating cumulative effect as concussions of the head:

“The long-term effect of one or more episodes of CCN on spinal cord function is unknown,” Bell stated. “Only recently have we begun to appreciate the long-term effect of multiple concussions on brain function. So it seems there’s potential for long-term effects following multiple episodes of CCN.”

Who Is Most At Risk of a Spinal Cord Concussion?

Because spinal cord concussions result from the forceful impact of a collision that bends the spine in a specific direction, football players are at the highest risk of suffering this type of SCI.

It is estimated that seven out of every 10,000 players suffer a spinal cord concussion, and the culprit in many instances is surprisingly the nature of the new and improved football helmets that are in wide use in the U.S.

In the past, football helmets were made of leather and provided very little cushion or support for the head. Modern helmets are made with greater amounts of padding and material that protects a player’s head during a tackle. However, modern helmets cannot stabilize a person’s neck in a helmet-to helmet collision that bends the spine with enough force to cause a concussion.

Should Players Be Allowed To Return After a Spinal Cord Concussion?

The adverse health effects of repeated concussions on the long-term health of NFL players have been widely publicized.

A similar debate is taking place about the wisdom of allowing players who suffer spinal cord concussions to resume playing football. In making this determination, doctors will often perform an MRI to analyze a player’s spinal column and spinal cord compression. Other important factors that determine whether a player should be allowed to resume football activities include:

  • Persistent symptoms that last several days or weeks
  • Evidence of a spine fracture or spine instability
  • Evidence that spinal cord is bruised

If a doctor finds that a player’s spinal canal has narrowed or that the player’s spinal cord is compressed, that may provide enough evidence that the player should stop playing football.

As with many issues related to head concussions, the best preventive method for spinal cord concussion is for players to tackle with their heads up, using their arms to bring opponents down.

Tackling education is the key to preventing spinal cord concussions and other serious SCIs that can deprive victims of their mobility.

Help In A Difficult Time

Spinal cord injuries are often serious and can cause temporary, partial or total paralysis. This can be a life-changing event that may require rigorous commitment to physical therapy before patients can regain even a semblance of their former lifestyle. That’s why it’s so important that victims of spinal cord injuries that were caused by a third party consult with a personal injury law firm that has a proven track record of success in these claims.

At Miller Kory Rowe LLP, we have spent years fighting on behalf of clients who have suffered spinal cord injuries. We understand how this injury affects an entire family, and we will aggressively pursue your claim to obtain fair compensation for your pain and suffering. Please call us today at (602) 461-8640 for a free consultation.

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