If the image above scares you, then good. It’s an image of Notre Dame Fighting Irish attackman Ryan Foley lying on the field after a hit by Virginia Cavaliers midfielder Bobby Hill during the second half of the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Quarterfinals at PPL Park. Foley turned out to be OK after being examined by a doctor. Head and neck injuries, even with precaution, are sometimes unavoidable in the physical game of lacrosse. That is why it is important to get educated on the subject especially at the youth level.
Head, neck and back injuries in youth sports are on the rise. Many coaches and parents do not know how to recognize the signs and symptoms or what to do when an injury occurs. Dr. Burak Ozgur, double Board Certified Spine and Back surgeon in Southern California, took time out of his busy schedule to let Lacrosse Playground ask him a few questions. Below are his answers.
How much has the rate of head and neck injuries increased?
It’s not clear if they have actually increased or we as a society are more aware of them and in reporting them.
How can we recognize these symptoms and how should they be treated?
Head injuries in sports usually presents in the form of a concussion. An athlete may be dazed, confused, and/or disoriented. They may be unable to answer simple questions of who they are, where they are, what are they doing, who is the president, what is the date/month/year, etc… Incorrect answers may be signs of a concussion. The patient may be staring off and not focused on what the examiner is saying. They may have a glazed over look. These are all worrisome signs and if present, the athlete should not be allowed to return to the game and instead should receive immediate medical attention.
What are the most common forms of neck and head injuries?
Spine injuries in competitive sports may manifest in neck/cervical spine injuries. Sometimes people refer to these as “stingers”. This is when a patient may have a buzzing, numbness or tingling down an arm or leg or if severe enough even throughout the body. Usually it is temporary and very brief but also worrisome and should be attended to by a medical professional. Rarely this is a spinal cord injury which could sometimes mean paralysis. This would be a devastating injury and could be permanent. A spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis is usually due to a severe physical contact to the neck where this is a major blunt force and bending of the neck. Anytime there is potential spinal cord injury, the patient/athlete should not be moved or manipulated except by trained medical professionals in which case they will carefully try and protect the patient from further injury. All of these scenarios require immediate trained medical profession evaluation and care.
Is there any way to prevent head and neck injuries?
One, proper safety equipment should be worn at all times. Two, proper contact techniques should be taught and enforced at all times and with all sports at all levels of competition. Athletes should be trained from an early age of these safety concerns.
Are some players more prone to injuries than others?
Yes, some individuals may be more prone to certain types of injuries based on their body size, anatomy, and basic genetics. For example, some people have what is called a congenitally narrowed spinal canal (congenital spinal stenosis) which basically means the space around the spinal canal is more narrow than others and hence they have less cushion room or space to protect the spinal cord.
What is being done to address injuries in terms of technology and equipment?
Better safety equipment constantly evolves with more comfortable, lighter, stronger equipment coupled with safer contact techniques and stricter enforcement.
For more information on neck, spinal and head injuries visit Dr. Burak Ozgur’s website, www.ozgurmd.com.