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Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries

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Spinal cord injuries associated with sports and recreation are increasing, in spite of our improved medical technology. Once again, prevention is where we are falling down, literally.

An image of hockey player with a severe injury

Paralysis is tragic enough when it comes as part of a long-standing disease in later life, but it somehow seems even more shocking when it hits a fit young person after a moments trauma. Such injuries come from a variety of sporting activities, such as diving, equestrian pursuits, parachuting, the use of off-road vehicles, and contact sports such as football and hockey.

In some of these areas, improvements have been made. For instance, a group of Florida neurosurgeons, alarmed at the rate of accidents with divers plunging into shallow water, agitated for an awareness campaign. Their slogan of "feet first, first time" was spread to every poolside, and caused a subsequent decrease in the number of fresh spinal cord injuries. Education and risk reduction can do the same in other sports as well.

Schools that teach parachuting in the morning then offer a real jump in the afternoon are unacceptable, and deserve every law suit that will inevitably follow such imprudence. Football players can be taught to tackle with their shoulders instead of with their heads, and indeed great improvements have been made in reducing injuries in this sport. In addition to changes in technique and equipment design, modification of some of the rules have also helped organized football’s injury rate. These factors could well be applied to other sports such as hockey, where the rate of spinal cord injuries is actually rising. One area where more regulation and rule changes would help is in the area of off-road vehicles, from boats to snowmobiles and motor-cross bicycles. In most jurisdictions there is absolutely no mandatory teaching or examination for competence, no minimum age requirements, and, with the exception of boaters in some areas, not much testing for intoxication.

Here's an action tip:

A lifetime of paralysis is a stiff price to pay for a momentary indiscretion. Let's all be more aware of the risks of spinal cord injury, and use our heads to save our spines.

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