Kinetic energy is best defined as “the energy possessed by a body because of its motion.” This physical principle provides a basis for the excitement and attraction of high-velocity collision sports. Unfortunately, it may also be the basis for their downfall.
It is no secret that athletes have become larger, stronger and faster over the past decade. Attending a high school or youth sporting event will provide sufficient proof.
The human body is an efficient and durable machine but the question of whether it can withstand the kinetic forces it is currently subjected to in sports is now in question. This issue has particular importance regarding the bony vertebrae that protect the spinal cord.
Last week alone, two high-profile football players sustained significant spinal injuries. Devon Walker, a defensive back for Tulane University, suffered an awkward head-to-head collision while tackling an opponent. This resulted in a fracture of the spinal vertebrae just below the skull in an area known as the cervical spine.
Roger Saffold, a tackle for the St. Louis Rams, was also involved in a head-to-head collision and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher. Although no fracture was reported in Saffold’s injury, there is concern regarding the potential for further injury.
The spinal cord provides the main link for the nervous system between the brain and the peripheral nerves. Those nerves provide sensation and movement. Head-to-head impacts result in the entire kinetic force of the collision to be directed on the spine.
Similar to other forms of injury, an inflammatory response is triggered and produces swelling and subsequent damage to the nerve fibers. Unfortunately, this damage is often permanent and results in paralysis of all extremities (quadriplegia) or just the lower extremities (paraplegia). Aggressive treatment and surgery can often limit damage.
As kinetic forces increase, so does the apparent danger of participation in football and similar sports. A solution to this dilemma is a necessity.