Rugby and cervical spine injuries - has anything changed? A 5-year review in the Western Cape

S Afr Med J. 2010 Mar 30;100(4):235-8. doi: 10.7196/samj.3489.


Objectives: To review the incidence of all rugby-associated cervical spine injuries in the Western Cape and identify risk factors.

Methods: We reviewed case notes and X-rays of 27 male patients with rugby-related cervical spine injuries treated in the acute spinal injury (ASCI) unit at Groote Schuur Hospital from April 2003 to June 2008, and followed up with telephone interviews. Patient profile, rugby profile, subsequent injury management from the field to definitive surgery and neurological status on admission, discharge and follow-up using the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) classification were assessed.

Results: Average patient age was 25.3 years; 19% of them were scholars. The highest level of education among the adults was primary school in 70% of cases. Forwards and backs had the same injury rate. Most injuries occurred outside the metropole; more occurred in the tackling phase; 39% occurred during foul play; a third of players were not stabilised with a collar on the field; and 65% were taken to an inappropriate primary contact centre. A median of 10 hours elapsed before admission to the ASCI unit. Facet dislocations occurred in 59%; 8 presented neurologically complete and remained so; and 3 presented with residual sensation, with 2 improving to normal. Three presented as ASIA C improving to D, and all Ds improved to Es. Despite their injuries, 60% said they would advise their sons to play rugby. Only 22% regretted playing.

Conclusions: Despite a reduction in cervical spine injuries in rugby in the Western Cape, the latter mostly occur outside the metropole, where levels of education are lower, foul play is more often associated with the injury, and rapid access to medical care is generally unavailable.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Educational Status
  • Football / injuries*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Joint Dislocations / epidemiology*
  • Joint Dislocations / etiology
  • Joint Dislocations / rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Recovery of Function
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Spinal Fractures / epidemiology*
  • Spinal Fractures / etiology
  • Spinal Fractures / rehabilitation
  • Spinal Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Spinal Injuries / etiology
  • Spinal Injuries / rehabilitation