Objective: To present recommendations that decrease the risk of cervical spine fractures and dislocations in football players.
Background: Axial loading of the cervical spine resulting from head-down contact is the primary cause of spinal cord injuries. Keeping the head up and initiating contact with the shoulder or chest decreases the risk of these injuries. The 1976 rule changes resulted in a dramatic decrease in catastrophic cervical spine injuries. However, the helmet-contact rules are rarely enforced and head-down contact still occurs frequently. Our recommendations are directed toward decreasing the incidence of head-down contact.
Recommendations: Educate players, coaches, and officials that unintentional and intentional head-down contact can result in catastrophic injuries. Increase the time tacklers, ball carriers, and blockers spend practicing correct contact techniques. Improve the enforcement and understanding of the existing helmet-contact penalties.