What Every Parent Of Young Football Players Needs To Know About Neck Injuries & Prevention

It's become well known that football players are at risk of concussion, even in very young children who are just starting to play. What's not as commonly known is the risk of cervical spine injuries. In fact, it's estimated that cervical spine injuries occur in 10% to 15% of football players. While most of these are subaxial cervical spine injuries, 8% of them are upper cervical spine injuries, one-third of which resulted in quadriplegia. If you have a child who is a football player, you may be wondering what all of this means and how your child can be protected from injury. Read on. 

The Cervical Spine 

The cervical spine consists of the top seven vertebra of the spine. They are designated as C1-C7. C1 and C2 have special jobs, and they are called the atlas and the axis, respectfully. They are responsible for the ability to turn the head sideways, up and down, and all around. When either one of these two are damaged, it can cause quadriplegia and other life-changing injuries. The rest of the vertebra in the cervical spine (C3-C7) can also become damaged in a football injury; however, the resulting affects on the body are typically not as severe. Essentially, the higher the vertebra is in the spine, the more severe an injury will be when that particular vertebra is damaged. 

The Equipment

If your family has been involved in youth football for any amount of time, you were likely amused by the bobble-heads of the smallest children when they take to the fields. Fortunately, children at these very young tender ages do not typically play with the same force and impact as older players, particularly those in high school, college, and pro. However, it's important to not rely solely on the football helmet. It's important to make sure the helmets have been inspected and are in optimal condition. 

If your child's team does not provide additional equipment beyond the helmet and pads, it is highly recommended for you to purchase a collar for your child to wear during practices and games. Collars are designed to shorten the distance between the helmet and pads, which helps to prevent neck injuries. They are fitted directly onto the shoulder pads and tightly secured. Always, always, always check the condition of your child's football equipment before you send them out onto the field, whether for practice, a scrimmage, or a game. 

Instruct your child to tell their coach as soon as they start feeling anything wrong with their body or their equipment. Keep your child's pediatrician services on speed dial so you can call immediately with any concerns of injuries or illnesses.