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Recent Deaths Highlight the Need for Greater Awareness Regarding Spinal Cord Injuries Among Student Athletes

This summer, 16 year old De’Antre Turman died after fracturing his third vertebra during a football scrimmage at an Atlanta area high school. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, incidents such as this highlight the need to educate young athletes and their coaches regarding the risk of sustaining injuries to their cervical spine while playing contact sports.

Spinal cord injuries are on the rise in the U.S. Most injuries occur in young adults.

According to estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20,000 spinal cord injuries occur in the U.S. every year. Most new spinal cord injuries occur in individuals between the ages of 15 and 35 years old. Nearly 12 percent of these spinal cord injuries are sports related. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the number of cervical spine injuries that lead to neurological damage is on the rise.

Spinal cord injuries can become fatal when they are not recognized in time.

The cervical spine protects the spinal cord, which connects the brain to the body. It is a highly vulnerable area located between the first and seventh vertebrae. Cervical spine injuries commonly occur when individuals collide with another player or objects such as, goal posts, while their head is lowered or their chin is tucked into their chest. One factor that makes cervical spine injuries particularly fatal is that most players and their coaches are unable to recognize the severity of the damage in time. Players can often recover from fractures to their vertebrae. However, cervical spine injuries have the potential to become fatal because one wrong move can sever the spinal cord. In fact, one of the highest risks to someone who has sustained a spinal injury occurs when they are being moved.

Advocacy organizations are pushing for schools to hire certified athletic trainers who have the expertise to recognize and respond to spinal cord injuries.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association reports that of the U.S. secondary schools which have athletic programs, only two-thirds of them have access to an athletic trainer who is licensed by the state and works under the direction of a physician. A number of organizations are working to encourage schools to hire certified athletic trainers. These individuals have the training and expertise necessary to recognize and respond to a cervical spine injury in a timely manner.

In 2009, the Association issued recommendations regarding the management of cervical spine injuries. The recommendation included taking special care when removing helmets, face masks, and shoulder pads. The recommendations also laid out immobilization techniques that could be used on the field.

If you child or other loved one has been injured or killed in a school sporting event, you should contact an attorney immediately. An attorney will be able to review the facts of your case and determine whether another party is liable for your loss. If so, the attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve.