What is Spear Tacklers Spine? A spinal condition that could put your son at risk for neurological complications if not corrected before tackling.
There have been increasing reports throughout the NFL and NCAA of increased brain injuries as a result of head and brain trauma. The good news is that spinal research has finally increased the awareness of return to play requirements. As I was growing up, I experienced this brain trauma first hand while playing football. When you got your head rattled and couldn’t remember what just happened, you simply got told to shake it off. There are several important things that can be done in order to still play football but limit your risk of serious injury. One thing to start with is getting a baseline for Impact testing. Impact testing needs a baseline to determine when your neurologic testing is back to being normal following a concussion. Without a baseline, it makes it difficult to determine what needs to be done in order to get back onto the field. The second thing that most don’t realize is the problem of “spear tackler’s spine”. It is common terminology in football to get what some would consider as a “stinger”. This is when you hit someone and you would get a shooting pain into the arm and hand. This occurs due to a sudden stretch of the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves traveling from your neck down into your arm. The brachial plexus gives nerve supply to all the muscles of the arm and shoulder muscles.
A view into my past with my current understanding of the spine allows a complete understanding of what can happen when tackling in football starting at a young age. When I was 17 years old and playing at Glenbard North H.S., I started to get stingers several times a game. It would take a few moments to regain full control and the feeling back in my arm and hand. In my senior year, I had the honor of becoming All-Conference, All Area, All-State, and DVC defensive player of the year. This great news didn’t solve the problem I was worried about, which was constantly having my arm go numb. I had shoulder surgery that was supposedly the reason I had weakness when holding my arm out to the side. I had some full ride offers from NAIA and Division 2 schools, but being 5’9’’, I was not cut out to be a linebacker in a Division 1 program. I ended up playing D3 football at North Central in Naperville but I quickly realized during practice hitting drills that I would still get stingers. I decided at that point it was not worth playing anymore. I put all of my effort into rugby, which surprisingly caused me to experience no pain in my arm and shoulder when tackling. I played rugby for nearly 10 years and never had an issue when tackling with getting “stingers”, not even once in 8 years of playing rugby. I finally applied what I learned in chiropractic school and CBP technique in 2013 by taking a side-view x-ray of my neck. What I learned was there was major curve loss in my neck that was congruent with the pain that I felt when I played football nearly 10 years ago. My instability was large enough to give me an impairment score based off the AMA (American Medical Association) guidelines. This means that this condition would be something that I could face for the rest of my life if I didn’t do anything to take care of it. The whiplash that occurred with the tackling technique that was used for the past decades at the time caused constant hyperextension of the neck and head. This is similar to the motion that occurs in a car accident. Recently, I got my hands on a research study written back in 1993 by Torg in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. This study found that people that had a decrease in the curve in their neck were at greater risk of having injuries to the brachial plexus, which could result in permanent neurological deficit. This made sense to me; finally, I looked at my neck-side view x-ray and found I had a curve of 2 degrees in my neck. The ideal value that Harrison et al found present in an ideal neck should be 42 degrees. This decrease in curve was the reason why I was getting such bad pain when playing football. This type of curve according to Torg et al study means that I was at high risk of getting exactly what I got (stingers). Torg et al termed this Spear Tackler’s spine. If I could have done this corrective type of chiropractic care, I could have prevented this pain and impairment from occurring in the first place.
One question people might ask would be, why didn’t I get pain when I was playing rugby? The reason is that in rugby, tackling techniques focus to take the head and neck out of the tackle. Looking at current news, we see reports from the Seattle Seahawks and their unique tackling technique that was adopted from rugby overseas. The defense has been using a “rugby approach” to tackling. Rather than putting the face mask in the numbers. They have the players keep their head out of the tackle all together. This causes the impact to be on the players should pads, rather than their head. They found that rugby players were very good at protecting the neck in their tackles, so why not bring the same thing over to football.
When playing football or any contact sport, one should make sure that their structure is in its optimal position to distribute the force. This would be no different than crash testing that is performed on a car. If a force is going to be applied to certain structures, we want to make sure it can withhold the stress and not create health problems for future generations to come.
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