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Cervical spinal injury in children’s community rugby football


Objective: To examine the characteristics of cervical spinal injury (CSI) in school aged children injured in community based rugby football who presented to the emergency department for assessment.

Methods: This is a retrospective descriptive case series study reviewing the medical records of all children younger than 15 years of age who presented to the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, Australia for assessment of injury to the cervical spine between 2000 and 2003.

Results: There were 125 children with CSI; most (97%) were boys of mean age 12.7 years. Injuries occurred throughout the season, with an unexpected peak in June. Neck pain was the main presenting complaint (98%). Neurological symptoms were reported in 43%, half having concussion. Hyperextension of the neck accounted for a third of all cases and was usually the result of a spear tackle. Appropriate treatment of the cervical spine on the field of play before transport to hospital was inconsistently performed. Half of the players with CSI suffered secondary injuries, consisting of concussive head injury, faciomaxillary injury, eye injury, or limb fracture. Admission to hospital was common, with all children admitted undergoing further radiological assessment. Two minor fractures were reported and no permanent neurological disability. Overall, no adverse events were reported and the clinical outcome was good.

Conclusion: CSI in children playing rugby football is rarely catastrophic although often associated with other injuries. Continued efforts are needed to educate players and referees to prevent injury.

  • neck
  • spinal injury
  • schoolboys
  • rugby football

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