Prevalence of sports-related spinal injury stratified by competition level and return to play guidelines

Brian Fiani, Juliana Runnels, Ashley Taylor, Manraj Sekhon, Daniel Chacon, Michael McLarnon, Rebecca Houston, Sasha Vereecken
Reviews in the Neurosciences 2020 October 26
Spinal injury is among the most severe and feared injuries an athlete may face. We present an up-to-date review of the recent literature, stratifying recommendations based on injury location (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine) and type, as well as, the level of competitive play (high school, collegiate, professional). A literature search was completed to identify all publications reporting return to play guidelines for athletic injuries or injury-related surgery irrespective of the study design. Publication dates were not restricted by year. Search terms used included "return to play" and "spinal injury" on National Library of Medicine (PubMed) and Google Scholar. Selection criteria for literature included axial spine injury guidelines for athletic participation post-injury or post-surgery. Literature found from the search criteria was sorted based on level of competition and location of axial spine injury involved. It was found that professional athletes are more likely to suffer severe spinal injuries, require surgery, and necessitate a longer return to play (RTP), with high school and college athletes usually returning to play within days or weeks. Injuries occur mainly within contact sports and concordance exists between initial and subsequent spinal injuries. Adequate rest, rehabilitation, and protective equipment alongside the education of athletes and coaches are recommended. In conclusion, a multidisciplinary approach to patient management is required with consideration for the emotional, social, and perhaps financial impact that spinal injury may have upon the athlete. Consensus from the literature states that in order for an athlete to safely return to play, that athlete should not be actively suffering from pain, should have a full range of motion, and complete return of their strength in the absence of neurological deficit.

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