Cervical Spine Injuries: Summer Olympics Edition

Category: Neck Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: August 17, 2016

cervical spine pain

The Summer Olympics are nearing their end, and we’ve been treated to impressive feats from the world’s best athletes. These competitors represent the peak of physical fitness, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to spine injuries. We’ve seen that sentiment firsthand, as cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten suffered multiple spinal fractures after a devastating crash during the downhill portion of the individual event. If you missed it, we talked about it on the blog earlier in the week.

Van Vleuten’s spine injury occurred in her mid or lumbar spine, but today we want to focus on cervical spine injuries. Estimates suggest that approximately 10,000 people in the US suffer a severe cervical spine injury each year, and about 10 percent of those are the result of an athletic event. Summer athletes are less prone to these injuries because winter sports typically involve higher speeds and harder landing surfaces, but cervical injuries are never fully out of the question. Today, we look at a couple of different injuries that can affect the cervical portion of your spine.

Cervical Strains and Sprains

One of the most common and less serious injuries to the area is a cervical sprain. This can occur to athletic individuals or people who simply slept in an awkward position. Oftentimes accompanied by localized tightness on one side of neck, a cervical sprain or strain is categorized by limited and painful neck movement. This usually subsides within a week with stretching, ice and heat, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Cervical Facet Syndrome

This more serious condition occurs when a sprain or strain affects the facet joints that connect one cervical vertebrae to the next. Mechanically, this injury occurs when the joint capsule and spinal ligaments are stretched and the intricate muscles that attach to the vertebrae are strained. This can occur in a more violent movement of the neck, like in whiplash from a car accident. Physical therapy, an extended period of rest and muscle relaxants can help resolve cervical facet syndrome.

Cervical Radiculopathy

This condition sets in when nerve root impingement develops as a result of disc herniation or entrapment from other bony structures. Cervical radiculopathy symptoms include numbness, weakness of the shoulders or arms, decreased range of motion and shooting pain upon movement. Roughly 70 percent of patients with the condition will notice significant symptom improvement over the course of 2-3 months of conservative treatment, but the other 30 percent will need surgery to free the impingement.

Cervical Spine Fracture

A high-energy trauma to the head or neck region can result in one of the most severe injuries – a cervical spine fracture. Whether it happens on the field or in a vehicle, roughly 50 percent of people with a cervical spinal fracture will also have other significant skeletal or internal organ injuries, so expedient care is crucial. If the fracture is stable, bracing, pain pills and prolonged rest may allow the injury to heal on its own, but unstable fractures will need to be addressed surgically.

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