Hope that Athletes with Temporary Paralysis can Return to Sports
Research Shows Temporary Paralysis Does Not Increase Odds of Catastrophic Injury

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The athlete lays on a field, unmoving. As the crowd watches silently, the player is wrapped securely in a neck brace, loaded on to a stretcher, wheeled to an ambulance, and carried off the field of play. There are many questions in the mind of teammates, opponents and fans, but chief among them are “is it serious” and “is this the end of a career?”

Finding as answer to those question is the aim of an article published in the January issue of Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.

For the athlete, the feeling that legs, feet, toes, even arms and fingers don’t work is terrifying. And for some, that feeling never goes away. For others, however, the paralysis lasts only a short time. Those athletes suffer what is known as a transient spinal cord injury.

“A transient spinal cord injury is temporary,” explains Julian Bailes, M.D., chair of the neurosurgery department at West Virginia Unviersity. “But at the time it occurs, no one knows that it is not permanent. TCSI in athletes presents a challenging clinical scenario. The early neurological signs, on-field management of the injury, and triage can be confusing for the athlete, the trainer, team physician and neurosurgeon.”

According to Dr. Bailes, decisions about diagnostic evaluation and returning to participation in contact sports are also complex with a transient spinal cord injury.

“The injured athletes often want to return to competition, making these cases difficult to manage,” Bailes added. “By returning to the sport, they put themselves at risk of subsequent head and spinal injuries.”

In an article published in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, Bailes concludes that a single episode of transient spinal cord injury, with no further indication of injury, does not substantially increase the risk of future catastrophic spinal cord injury.

“It is important, however, that athletes at any level realize that neurological sports medicine is highly individualized,” Bailes said. “There are many factors to consider before deciding if an injured athlete should return to competition. Most importantly, an athlete who has suffered a transient spinal cord injury must be aware that the injury was not necessarily harmless and that while the risk is small, there is still a risk of permanent spinal cord injury.”

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
Ic: 1-17-05

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