Possible spinal cord injury – do NOT move player!

One important disclaimer, of course: I have no medical training so I’m simply sharing what I experienced and learned recently from a concerned referee/dad’s perspective.

During two of the games I officiated these last six weeks (details below) we had to deal with possible spinal cord injuries. The cervical spine is the highly vulnerable area between the first and seventh vertebrae that protects the spinal cord connecting the brain to the body.

In these cases it is absolutely critical that

  1. the player’s neck and/or head is NOT moved in ANY way, and
  2. that 9-1-1 is called immediately.

Referees and coaches should observe whether the injured player lost consciousness at any time. Emergency personnel will ask.

Use umbrellas to shade the player from sun or rain and use blankets/jackets as needed to keep the player warm until emergency responders arrive.

If there is any doubt at all assume a spinal cord injury.

The injured player, teammates, coaches, and referees may not instantly recognize the severity of the damage, and the wrong move can further damage or sever the spinal cord, resulting in immediate paralysis or even death.

I was the Center Referee (CR) for the first game (U17G) and Assistant Referee (AR) for the second game (U18G). When it rains, it pours I guess.

During the first game a girl was tripped from behind while running at speed with the ball. She fell forward like a felled tree without using her hands to brace for impact. So her head slammed face-first into the surface, then snapped back up and down. She did not move after this and cried quietly.

During the second game a defender jumped from behind into the upper back/neck area while using her arm across her upper body to protect herself from the impact. The injured player couldn’t see this coming and wasn’t able to tighten her neck muscles so the head rapidly snapped backwards and then forwards. She heard/felt a cracking sound in her neck. This player also didn’t move and cried quietly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that around 2,000 spinal-cord injuries occur annually in U.S. sports. So this is a relatively rare injury given how many games take place nationally every weekend across various sports, but let’s be very cautious if a spinal cord injury might be a possibility.

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

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