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Neck Injury Most Common With Football

More Football Neck Injuries Than in Ice Hockey, Soccer
WebMD Health News

April 20, 2005 -- U.S.-style football sends more athletes to emergency rooms for neck injuries than ice hockey or soccer, according to a new study.

In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Canadian researchers tallied U.S. emergency room visits for neck injuries in the 1990s. They cross-referenced that information with yearly participation figures for each of the three sports.

Here are the estimated numbers of neck injuries per sport from 1990-1999:

  • Football: 114,706 neck injuries
  • Soccer: 19,341 neck injuries
  • Ice hockey: 5,038 neck injuries

Specific Neck Injury Statistics

Football led in all neck injuries, from minor cuts and scrapes to more severe injuries including neck fractures and dislocations, says the study.

Most of the injuries were not severe. Here are the details for each sport:

  • Football: 104,483 neck contusions, sprains, or strains; 1,588 neck fractures or dislocations; and 621 neck lacerations.
  • Soccer: 17,927 neck contusions, sprains, or strains; 214 neck fractures or dislocations; and 0 neck lacerations.
  • Ice hockey: 4,964 neck contusions, sprains, or strains; 105 neck fractures or dislocations; and 199 neck lacerations.

Emergency room data came from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC gathers data from selected U.S. hospital emergency rooms to form its estimates.

Information on specific injuries wasn't available for each sport for every year. The study sought to look beyond the worst injuries that cause paralysis and death, and it wasn't limited to elite players.

All three sports are fast-paced, high-energy games with frequent player collisions. Football players intentionally slam into each other as standard play.

As the study puts it, football defensive players are "routinely required to completely impede an offensive player's motion, and in some cases drive the offensive player backwards.

"These types of collisions probably require more force and occur more often in football than in the other sports," continue the researchers, who included J. Scott Delaney, MD.

Delaney isn't trying to rewrite the rules of the game. His study notes that the CPSC's data didn't specify whether injured athletes were playing tackle or nontackle football. Delaney works with professional athletes as a doctor for the Montreal Alouettes football team, Montreal Impact soccer team, and Cirque du Soleil.

Protective Gear, Game Rules May Help

Something interesting happened in ice hockey in the mid-1990s, says the study. Suddenly, the sport had no neck laceration injuries in the CPSC's emergency room records.

Neck guards might have had something to do with that, say the researchers. Neck guards made their debut in the 1980s and aren't mandatory across the U.S., according to the study.

"The introduction of neck protectors may have played an important role in preventing these serious injuries," says Delaney in a news release.

Likewise, the study says football rules banning "spearing" (deliberately using a helmet to punish an opponent) might have helped, along with increasing general awareness about head injuries.

"It always pays to play it safe," says Delaney in the news release.

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