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Pain Management Health Center

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Neck Injuries in Sports: What You Should Know

Getting tackled two yards before the end zone with your team down six points and less than one minute to go in the game is a pain in the neck -- literally. Not only will a hard tackle nix your chances of winning the game, but it may also leave you with a neck injury.

To play it safe you need to think with your head, and you need to think about your neck.

Keep reading to learn why your neck is so important, and what you need to do to protect it.

Your Neck: An Introduction

Your neck is the part of your spine that connects your head to the rest of your body. Some necks are big and wide, others are long and thin. However it's shaped, your neck has a big job. It needs to be flexible enough to move, but also strong enough to support the weight of your head. Pick up a 10-pound bowling ball and you can feel how heavy a load your neck has to carry.

The seven spinal bones, or vertebrae that make up your neck are what give it stability. In between each vertebra are disks that act like cushioning shock absorbers. There are also muscles, which support the neck and give it flexibility.

Your Neck - On Sports

Playing sports regularly can put a lot of wear and tear on the muscles and ligaments of your neck.

Direct blows to your head or shoulder can lead to head injuries, as well as disc and nerve damage, strains and sprains, and other neck injuries.

Your neck takes a pounding every time you get tackled or fall. A high-speed collision that throws your head forward or backward can put a lot of force on your neck, just like getting whiplash in a car accident. When the neck is flung backward past its normal limits, it's called hyperextension. When the neck is flung forward beyond its limits, it's called hyperflexion. These sudden movements can tear ligaments -- the thick, rubber band-like tissues that connect the vertebrae in your neck -- causing a sprain or strain.

When the force of a hit or fall pushes your head to one side, you can get a neck injury called a burner or stinger. Named because of the shock-like jolt of pain it sends racing from your shoulder down your arm, a burner or stinger is caused by damage to the brachial plexus -- the bundle of nerves that supplies feeling to the arm. Burners and stingers are common: Up to 70% of college football players report having had one of these injuries.

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