The Super Bowl, played earlier this month, was one for the record books. Peyton Manning became the oldest quarterback to ever win the championship game. What is even more historic is that he did it after suffering what could have, and probably by most people’s accounts should have, been a career ending injury.
Manning was hit hard in 2006 and the rotational and lateral bending forces he took during a tackle overloaded the disks in his neck causing the disk to fail, injuring the nerve. After three major surgeries he returned to the NFL and led the Broncos to a title.
This was a high profile injury of an elite player, but it is one of the fairly common injuries a professional football player risks and endures while playing the game. Spine and neck injuries can occur because of plays like leading with the head while tackling, hitting the turf after going up for a catch and being tackled, and having the facemask grabbed. The forces generated by today’s players are greater than when the game first began and lead to players suffering throughout their lives from the injuries sustained while playing. Football players started out as regular people but have evolved into men with extraordinary speed, strength, and specialization.
Looking back at the earliest versions of helmets and equipment helps us to understand how the game was played and to see how it reached the levels it is today. It is interesting to note that the development and use of a helmet is most likely the cause of so many head, neck, and spinal injuries. Players didn’t use their head as a weapon (generally) or lead with it when tackling. In 2015, a study titled, Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, was released by researchers from The University of North Carolina and University of Maryland. One takeaway from the report is that over the past 10 years (2005-2014) the fewest number of head and neck related fatalities have been recorded but the injuries are still very common.
By looking at injuries and deaths related to the game, it will help the league work toward reducing player injuries. Newer helmet designs are addressing the risk of concussion, although there are many factors to head injury that are unknown and may not be prevented by a helmet. And, the league is addressing the injury issues by changing the rules of the game to prevent hits on defenseless players and making certain types of tackles (leading with the head, horse collar, and facemask) penalty resulting plays.
Football players risk temporary and permanent bodily injury to play the game. New orthopedic surgery techniques and implants are being developed to address their injuries, as well as the injuries suffered by ordinary people living ordinary lives. As one of those industries on the cutting edge of advanced medical technologies, we work closely with doctors and researchers to design and manufacture orthopedic and spinal implants and instruments to repair injuries to necks, spines, shoulders, legs, etc. no matter how those injuries may occur.