Return to play after cervical spine injury

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2001 May 15;26(10):1131-6. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200105150-00007.


Study design: A questionnaire survey was mailed to members of the Cervical Spine Research Society, the Herodiuus Sports Medicine Society, and to members of the authors' Department of Orthopaedics.

Objectives: The purpose of our study was to evaluate what influence, if any, factors such as published guidelines, type of sport of the patient, number of years in practice, subspecialty interest, and sports participation of the respondent held in the "return to play" decision-making process after a cervical spine injury.

Summary of background data: The consequences of cervical spine injury are potentially catastrophic, and return to play decisions in athletes with a history of neck injury can be agonizing. Although recent publications have addressed some of the concerns regarding cervical spine injuries in the athletic population, many questions remain unanswered. Factors such as published guidelines, type of sport of the patient, number of years in practice, subspecialty interest, and sports participation of the respondent have all been suggested as having a possible role in return to play decisions.

Methods: Representative radiographs and case histories of 10 athletes who had sustained neck injury were mailed to 346 physicians. For each case physicians selected every type of play (of six categories) that they felt comfortable recommending. Type of play was divided into six categories: Type 1, collision sports; Type 2, contact sports; Type 3, noncontact, high velocity sports; Type 4, noncontact, repetitive load sports (e.g., running); Type 5, noncontact, low impact sports; Type 6, no sports. In addition, demographic data regarding board certification, subspecialty interest, number of years in practice, use of guidelines in return to play decisions, and personal participation in sports were queried from all respondents. Statistical analysis was completed with Statview (Berkeley, CA). Basic descriptive statistics, chi2, and ANOVA were used where appropriate.

Results: Three hundred forty-six questionnaires were mailed and 113 were returned (response rate 32.7%). One hundred ten (97%) of the respondents who completed the questionnaire were board certified. Seventy-five were subspecialists in spine, 22 were subspecialists in sportsmedicine, and 13 reported interests in both sports medicine and spine. Use of Published Guidelines. Although 49% of respondents reported using guidelines in decision-making, the use of guidelines was statistically significant in only one case (P = 0.04). Hierarchy of Risk. In general, those physicians who participated in the study followed the hierarchy of risk that we established in this study (Type 1 [collision sports; highest level of risk] through Type 6 [no sports; lowest level of risk]). Twelve (10.6%) respondents, however, deviated from it in one or more cases. Years in Practice. In three cases there was a statistically significant association between the number of years a physician was in practice and the type of play selected (P < 0.05). In each case a lower level of play tended to be recommended by more senior physicians. Subspecialty Interest. In three cases those respondents with a spine subspecialty interest recommended returned to a higher level of play (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: There is no consensus on the postinjury management of many cervical spine-injured patients. Further research, education, and discussion on this topic are needed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Child
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Medicine
  • Physicians
  • Postoperative Period
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Professional Practice
  • Risk Factors
  • Specialization
  • Sports*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors