Spinal & Sports Injury

Most people are familiar with the basic function of the spinal cord; how it acts as a relay that carries signals from the brain to the rest of the nervous system. This bundle of nerves is protected by the spinal column, which many confuse for the spinal cord itself because of how the two are talked about almost interchangeably.

In fact, when referencing spinal cord injuries, what usually gets referenced is the specific vertebrae of the spinal column where the injury occurred. One reason for this is that since the spinal column is clearly segmented (and the spinal cord resides inside the column), it is easier to identify injury locations by referencing the vertebrae injured.

Vertebrae are the 33 individual bones that interlock with one another to form the spinal column. The vertebrae are numbered and divided into regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx. Only the top 24 bones are moveable; the vertebrae of the sacrum and coccyx are fused. The vertebrae in each region have unique features that help them perform their main functions.

Cervical (neck) – the main function of the cervical spine is to support the weight of the head. The seven cervical vertebrae are numbered C1 to C7. The neck has the greatest range of motion because of two specialized vertebrae that are connected to the skull; C1 and C2.

Thoracic (mid back) – the main function of the thoracic spine is to hold the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs. The 12 thoracic vertebrae are numbered T1 to T12. The range of motion in the thoracic spine is limited.

Lumbar (low back) – the main function of the lumbar spine is to bear the weight of the body. The 5 lumbar vertebrae are numbered L1 to L5. These vertebrae are much larger in size to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects.

Sacrum – the main function of the sacrum is to connect the spine to the hip bones (iliac). There are 5 sacral vertebrae, which are fused together. Together with the iliac bones, they form a ring called the pelvic girdle.

Coccyx region – the 4 fused bones of the coccyx or tailbone provide attachment for ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor.

Types of injury:

Complete spinal cord injuries occur when the spinal cord is fully compressed or severed, completely eliminating the brain’s ability to send signals below the point of injury. Incomplete spinal cord injuries occur when the spinal cord is compressed or injured, but the brain’s ability to send signals below the site of the injury is not completely removed.

When comparing complete vs. incomplete spinal cord injuries, it is not always easy to discern which type you have. Particularly in the first weeks after an injury, swelling may interfere with function. When the swelling goes down, an injury that appeared to be a complete spinal cord injury might turn out to be incomplete.

Classification of injury:

Spinal injury is classified according to the person’s type of loss of motor and sensory function. The following are the main types of classifications:

  • Quadriplegia (quad means four). This involves loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs (arms and legs). It usually happens as a result of an injury at T1 or above. Quadriplegia also affects the chest muscles and injuries at C4 and above would require a mechanical breathing machine (ventilator).
  • Paraplegia (para means two like parts). This involves loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of the body (right and left legs). It usually happens as a result of injuries at T1 or below.
  • Triplegia (tri means three). This involves the loss of movement and sensation in one arm and both legs and usually results from incomplete spinal cord injury.

Level of injury and effects:

This following diagram is a guide, with general information only; impairments can vary depending on the type and severity of a spinal injury.

Causes of spine injury:

There are many causes of spinal injury. The more common injuries happen when the area of the spine or neck is bent or compressed, as in the following:

  • Birth injuries, which usually affect the spinal cord in the neck area
  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents. These can be either when a person is riding as a passenger in the car or is struck as a pedestrian.
  • Sports injuries
  • Diving accidents
  • Trampoline accidents
  • This involves penetrating injuries that pierce the cord, such as gunshots and stab wounds.

Prevention of spine injury:

  • Drive safely.Car crashes are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a car. Make sure that your children wear a seat belt or use an age- and weight-appropriate child safety seat. To protect them from air bag injuries, children under age 12 should always ride in the back seat.
  • Check water depth before diving.To make sure you do not dive into shallow water, do not dive into a pool unless it is 9 feet (about 3 meters) or deeper, do not dive into an aboveground pool and do not dive into any water of which you do not know the depth.
  • Prevent falls.Use a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects in high places. Add handrails along stairways. Put nonslip mats on tile floors and in the tub or shower. For young children, use safety gates to block stairs and consider installing window guards.
  • Take precautions when playing sports.Always wear recommended safety gear. Avoid leading with your head in sports. For example, do not slide headfirst in baseball, and do not tackle using the top of your helmet in football. Use a spotter for new moves in gymnastics.
  • Don’t drink and drive.Do not drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Do not ride with a driver who has been drinking.

Sports Injury

Exercising is good for you, but sometimes you can injure yourself when you play sports or exercise. Accidents, poor training practices, or improper gear can cause them. Some people get hurt because they are not in shape. Not warming up or stretching enough can also lead to injuries.

Common sports injuries:

The most common sports injuries are sprains and strains. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the tough bands connecting bones in a joint. Suddenly stretching ligaments past their limits deforms or tears them. Strains are injuries to muscle fibres or tendons, which anchor muscles to bones.

Strains are called “pulled muscles” for a reason: over-stretching or overusing a muscle causes tears in the muscle fibres or tendons. Think of ligaments and muscle-tendon units like springs. The tissue lengthens with stress and returns to its normal length unless it is pulled too far out of its normal range.

Management of sports injury:

Sports injuries are first treated with R-I-C-E (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation):

  • Decrease your regular activities and rest the injured area.
  • Put an ice pack on the injury for 20 minutes, four to eight times per day.

       You can use a:

  • Cold pack.
  • Ice bag.
  • A plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a towel.
  • Put even pressure on the painful area to help reduce the swelling.
  • Put the injured area on a pillow at a level above your heart.


Your doctor/pharmacist may recommend other things to treat your sports injury.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help decrease swelling and pain.
  • Immobilization is a common treatment for sports injuries. It keeps you from moving the injured area and prevents more damage. To limit movement of your injured area, your doctor may put you on a cast.
  • Surgery, in some cases, is needed to fix sports injuries. Surgery can fix torn tendons and ligaments or put broken bones back in place. Most sports injuries don’t need surgery.
  • Other therapies your doctor/pharmacist may recommend include:
    • Electrostimulation, which gives you mild electric shocks
    • Ultrasound or sound waves
    • Cold/Hot therapy

Cold therapy vs Hot therapy:

Prevention of sport injuries:

  1. Set realistic goals. Whether your goal is to swim more laps, lift a certain amount of weight or run a specific distance, set an obtainable goal and gradually work to improve.
  2. Plan and prepare. If you plan to begin exercising regularly or want to begin a new program, you should meet with your primary care provider first and discuss your options. Also, take the time to learn the proper techniques required for your sport or program. Working with a personal trainer or signing up for a class are often safe and enjoyable ways to start a new activity.
  3. Warm up and cool down. It is important to warm up before physical activity because research has shown that a heated muscle is less likely to be strained. Another important way to prevent injury is to increase your flexibility. This can be done by stretching before and after a workout.
  4. Take your time. Don’t push yourself too hard too fast. We need to allow for adequate time to gradually increase training levels so that our bodies have time to adjust to the stresses on our bones, joints and muscles. For instance, when running, increase mileage gradually and give yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts.
  5. Listen to your body. Adjust your activities if your body is showing signs of too much stress. While a mild and short-lived muscle ache is generally considered ‘good pain,’ pain in your joints is not normal and is a sign that you should cut back.

Health Supplements for spine/sports injury:

Anti-inflammation: Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection, often causing localized redness, swelling, pain, or heat. It may cause loss of function of the involved tissues. Acute inflammation is typically a protective and localized response to infection or injury. It’s designed to heal the body and restore normal tissue function. Spine/sports injuries are often related to inflammation.

Studies showed that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. The anti-inflammatory power of turmeric comes from one compound called curcumin with its ability to inhibit the body’s production of pro-inflammatory signalling compounds called eicosanoids. Using turmeric to slow the body’s production of eicosanoids brings their levels in the body back to normal levels and as a result, chronic systemic inflammation in the body decreases significantly.

Improve Blood Circulation: Regardless of your injury, whether it is a tear, strain or sprain the healing of your soft tissue is dependent on your body’s ability to repair itself. Even after the pain has disappeared, your body continues to work on repairing the damaged tissue. Improving your body’s blood circulation is a critical part of the healing process and will determine whether you recover within weeks or months. Increasing blood circulation provides your muscles and arteries with oxygen-rich blood, improving your overall health. The ability to fight infection, heal injuries, provide energy and filter toxins are all benefits associated with increased blood flow. Besides exercise, you may also consider taking health supplements that promote blood circulation.



  1. Spinal Cord
  2. Spinal Injury 101
  3. Medicine Net
  4. Mayfield Clinic
  5. Hopkins Medicine
  6. Thinkers
  7. Mayo Clinic
  8. Medline Plus
  9. Orange Orthopaedic Centre
  10. Wellness
  11. National Institute of Health
  12. TheraPearl
  13. Kingbrand
  14. Synchro