n International SportMed Journal - Acute cervical spine injuries in the athlete : diagnosis, management, and return-to-play : review article

Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1528-3356



Approximately 10% of the 10 000 annual cervical spine injuries in the United States occur in athletes. These occur in athletes of any ability and all levels of competition. Serious traumatic injuries are rare, and should initially be managed as any spine trauma case with immobilisation and thorough neurological and radiographic examination. Less severe injuries, such as "burners" or "stingers" and rarely transient quadriparesis, may occur in any contact sporting endeavour and should be carefully evaluated before return to play is allowed. Typically, symptoms from these injuries resolve quickly (minutes to hours); prolonged duration of neurological symptoms should raise the suspicion of a more serious bony or soft tissue cervical injury. Ultimately, the physician must decide when it is appropriate for the injured athlete to return to activity, and at what level. While no consensus exists as to consistent return to play criteria, the authors present their own recommendations, based on a thorough review of the literature and extensive clinical experience. Ultimately, the decision to return to play must be individualised, and should include an assessment of several factors such as the mechanism of injury, the anatomical site of injury, radiographic findings, and the athlete's clinical examination and recovery.

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