New Guidelines Proposed for Treating Youth Athletes’ Neck Injuries

A study was presented last week at the San Francisco gathering at the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine Specialty Day and at this meeting a strong case was made for changing the way injuries of the neck are treated on field for young sports participants.

One major change would be to leave helmet and shoulder pads on any athlete that is suspected of suffering a neck injury. The protective equipment is best and most safely removed in a controlled setting, the new study finds.

Dr. Gehron Treme, former sports medicine fellow at the University of Virginia stated, “There was a clear hole in the on-the-field guidelines in the treatment of young (8 to 14 year olds) contact and collision sports athletes with possible neck injuries”.

He further stated that “Skeletal proportions are different in children than adults. Kids have larger heads than torsos. With this study, we looked to see if this disproportion would result in a different recommendation, such as removing the helmet only. Our study found, however, just as is the case with adults, that both the helmet and shoulder pads should be left on for initial treatment and removed as a unit once the patient is stabilized,”

This study is important as it indicates additional injuries may be caused during on field treatments when worsening the neck injuries could be lessened or prevented by waiting to remove the protective gear. An interesting part of the study concluded that there was no statistically significant difference in alignment when the boys wore no equipment and when they wore both helmet and shoulder pads. However, wearing shoulder pads alone resulted in unacceptable alignment changes that could put a patient at risk if the helmet alone was removed.

Fortunately, on field injuries such as this aren’t common, however making a uniform way of treating them will raise the chance of the athlete that suffers a major neck injury during field play making a full and complete recovery. And the treatment received in the first 10 minutes after an injury can determine greatly how the patient will do in the long term part of their recovery.