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Cervical Spine Injuries

Sedgley, Matthew D. MD1; Cothran, Valerie E. MD2

doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000424
CAQ Review

1Medstar Health, Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, Ellicott City, MD; and 2University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD

Address for correspondence: Valerie E. Cothran, MD, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD; E-mail: Column Editor: Nailah Coleman, MD, FACSM; E-mail:

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Cervical spine injuries in sports are the purview of all members of the athletic and sports medicine team. From the coaches, who teach and train on appropriate technique; to the athletes, who must demonstrate excellent technique consistently; to the medical professionals, who must recognize the early signs of an injury, prevention and evaluation for cervical spine injuries are an ongoing practice (Table).

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Table Ce

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Cervical spine injuries are typically caused by excessive and/or abnormal sudden forces at the head or neck. They also can be associated with improper or poor technique with tackling, such as in football or other athletic maneuvers.

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Risk Factors

In addition to improper or poor technique, there are some spinal conditions that predispose athletes to cervical spine injuries.

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With the exception of brachial plexus neuropraxia, acute management of a presumed cervical spine injury involves immobilization and prompt emergency evaluation with radiography, computed tomography (CT), and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Definitive treatment would be based on the injury, any associated predisposing risk factors, and current (and potential) neurologic deficit.

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Return to Play Guidelines

With the exception of athletes suffering from stingers, athletes with all other cervical spinal cord injuries will not return to the field of play on the same day. Depending on the anatomical concern, an athlete may be restricted from returning to certain types of athletic activities.

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      Copyright © 2017 by the American College of Sports Medicine.