You’ve long doffed your winter coat and have already spent plenty of afternoons basking in the sun. At Methodist Hospital for Surgery, we certainly hope that your coming days are going to involve summer sports and weekend campouts, but we also want to know that you’re taking care along the way.
Specifically, as people become more active, especially in school or community athletic programs, our orthopedic specialists want to highlight some of the more common spinal injuries that can occur in these scenarios, along with how to prevent and treat them.
Because spinal injury should never be the reason for summer coming to a swift end.
Knowing When Things Are Out of Whack
Spine-related injuries common to sports is a lengthy topic, with a mile-long list of injuries one could sustain. But let’s shorten our focus to specific types of spinal injury and narrow it down to the top three: disc injury, pinched nerves—called stingers—and fractures.
- Disc Injury: herniated or “slipped” discs can occur as a result of prolonged pressure throughout the spine; an individual disc can tear out of its normal position and begin pressing against the spinal column. This kind of pressure against the spine’s root nerves can cause numbness, pain, and tingling in the limbs. Treatment generally begins conservatively, with anti-inflammatories, ice, and rest, but may progress to bracing, physical therapy, and steroid injections depending on the injury’s severity.
- Stingers: known clinically as a brachial plexus injury, stingers are common in contact sports and are caused by the head being forcefully pushed down or to the side (usually in a collision). The resulting pinched nerves cause stinging electrical-type pain, usually in one arm, and can lead to overall weakness in the limb if not treated. Much like disc injuries, treatment may include rest, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, or steroid or cortisone injections.
- Fractures: while it sounds scary, “spinal fracture” is not synonymous with “spinal cord injury” and the severity depends on the location of the fracture and whether surrounding ligaments were also injured or dislocated. Symptoms vary in accordance with the severity of the fracture but can include back or neck pain, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms or weakness, or paralysis. In many cases, spinal fractures heal with conservative treatments of rest and medication, otherwise braces, orthotics, and surgical fusion may be necessary.
Prevent Injury & Play It Safe
With spinal injury, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re engaging in any kind of contact sport, make sure helmets, padding, and other protective gear are worn and properly fitted. If you or another athlete suspects a spinal injury after a fall or collision—especially if you experience pain, numbness or tingling, or muscle weakness or paralysis—see an orthopedic specialist right away.