Objective: Although the incidence of catastrophic cervical spine injury in sport has been significantly reduced over the past 3 decades, the injury warrants continued attention because of the altered quality of life that often accompanies such an injury. The purpose of our literature review was to provide athletic trainers with an understanding of the mechanisms, anatomical structures, and complications often associated with sport-related cervical spine injury. We also present the most current recommendations for management and treatment of these potentially catastrophic injuries.
Data sources: A review of the most pertinent literature between 1970 and 2005 was conducted using MEDLINE and the search terms spinal cord injury, cervical spine injury, neurosurgical trauma, cervical spinal stenosis, and catastrophic spine injury.
Data synthesis: Flexion of the head places the cervical spine into a straight line and prevents the neck musculature from assisting in force absorption. This mechanism is the primary cause of cervical fracture, dislocation, and quadriplegia. The most serious of the syndromes described in the literature involves a complete spinal cord injury with transverse myelopathy. This injury typically results in total loss of spinal function below the level of the lesion.
Conclusions/recommendations: Spinal trauma may result in a variety of clinical syndromes, according to the type and severity of the impact and bony displacement, as well as subsequent secondary insults such as hemorrhage, ischemia, and edema. Athletic trainers should be prepared to promptly recognize these potentially catastrophic injuries and follow the recommendations of the Inter-Association Task Force for the Appropriate Care of the Spine Injured Athlete in managing such injuries.