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Head Down Contact and Spearing in Football

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					Head-Down Contact and Spearing in Football

Due to concerns over continued head and neck injuries related to head-down contact and spearing, the NCAA changed the spearing rule effective for this football season.

Why Are We Here Today ?

Why are we here today? We’re here to discuss how to prevent head and neck injuries. These three young men had their lives changed forever when they broke their necks playing college football. In the photo on the right, this linebacker dove at the ball carrier at the goalline, striking the runner with his head down. He caused a fumble…and sustained a high level cervical spine fracture. He never played football again.

This video clip from a college game last year shows several different angles of a wide receiver receiving a helmet to helmet blow from a defensive back. He is seen unconscious on the field with seizures after the collision. Although in this instance the wide receiver was injured, catastrophic neck injuries occur most often to defensive players. However, all players are at risk.

High Profile Injuries from Helmet to Helmet Hits: Drew Hixon

During the past college football season, two high profile injuries raised awareness regarding head and neck injuries. In the early part of the season, Drew Hixon, a wide receiver from Tennessee Tech University, received a violent helmet to helmet blow from an opposing defensive back, resulting in a severe closed head injury. Drew was in a coma for a significant time and continues to undergo rehabilitation today.

High Profile Injuries from Helmet to Helmet Hits: Reggie Brown

During a nationally televised game, Reggie Brown, another wide receiver, received a violent helmet to helmet hit from an opposing defensive back. The injury received widespread publicity nationwide and generated great awareness regarding the potential consequences of headdown contact and spearing.

NATA/AFCA Spearing in Football Task Force
January 11, 2005 Louisville, KY

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the American Football Coaches Association cosponsored a task force to explore head-down contact and spearing in football, looking at ways to prevent head and neck injuries. The task force was composed of physicians, athletic trainers, researchers, coaches, football officials and administrators from the NCAA and other governing bodies.

Head-Down Contact and Spearing
• Development of improved helmet technology has led to increased use of the head at contact, both intentional and unintentional

Over the years, the game of football has changed and evolved. The development of improved helmet technology has led to increased use of the head at contact, both intentional and unintentional.

Head-Down Contact and Spearing
• Catastrophic cervical spine injuries are among the most devastating injuries in all of sports • Axial loading is the primary mechanism for catastrophic cervical spine injuries
– as a result of head-down contact and spearing – whether intentional or unintentional

Catastrophic cervical spine injuries are among the most devastating injuries in all of sports Axial loading is the primary mechanism for catastrophic cervical spine injuries. Axial loading occurs as a result of head-down contact and spearing, whether intentional or unintentional.

AXIAL LOADING Head-Down Contact and Spearing

The normal cervical spine has a curve, allowing it to absorb shock. When the neck is flexed slightly forward, the cervical spine becomes straight. When a force is applied to the top of the head in this position, the energy is transmitted along the axis of the cervical spine: axial loading. With a collision, the head is stopped and the trunk keeps moving, crushing the spine between the two. When maximum compression is reached, the spine fails, just as the straw below.

AXIAL LOADING Head-Down Contact and Spearing

In the laboratory, fracture or dislocation of the neck has occurred with less than 150 ft-lb of kinetic energy. A running football player can possess 10 times this energy! Below is an x-ray from a football player with an axial loading mechanism of injury showing a C4-5 fracture/subluxation and a MRI showing deformity of the spinal cord as a result of the fracture. His post-surgery x-ray on the right shows his fracture stabilized following emergency surgery.

Chuckie Mullins
Died from complications related to cervical quadriplegia

This photo shows Chuckie Mullins, a defensive back from Ole Miss, at the exact moment he sustained a spinal cord injury. Note how he struck the ball carrier with the top of his head: the classic axial load position. He was a quadriplegic following this hit and later died from complications related to cervical quadriplegia.

Mechanism of Injury

This film clip shows the mechanism of injury for Chuckie Mullins. Watch how he lowers his head as he initiates contact, creating the “axial loading” mechanism.

Mechanism of Injury

This video shows a kick returner bringing a ball out of the end zone. Just as he is tackled, he lowers his head, creating the “axial loading” mechanism. He sustained a fracture/subluxation of his cervical spine. Miraculously, he did not sustain paralysis; however, he required emergency neck fusion surgery and never played football again.

NCAA Football 2005 Rules and Interpretations
Approved April 2005

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Rule 2, Section 24: Spearing – Article 1. Spearing is the use of the helmet (including the face mask) in an attempt to punish an opponent. Rule 9, Section 1: Contact and Interference Fouls – L. No player shall use his helmet (including the face mask) to butt or ram an opponent or attempt to punish him. – M. There shall be no spearing. – N. No player shall strike a runner with the crown or the top of his helmet in an attempt to punish him.

The 2005 NCAA football rules specifically address spearing and head-down contact. Spearing is the use of the helmet (including the face mask) in an attempt to punish an opponent. No player shall use his helmet (including the face mask) to butt or ram an opponent or attempt to punish him. There shall be no spearing. No player shall strike a runner with the crown or the top of his helmet in an attempt to punish him. Spearing and head-down contact will be a point of emphasis this year for NCAA college football officials.

Who is at Risk?

Defensive football players receive the majority of fatalities and catastrophic cervical spine injuries, with 4 times as many as offensive players. Tackling is the leading cause, followed by being tackled and then blocking. Defensive backs and special teams players are at the greatest risk with ball carriers, linebackers and defensive linemen having the next highest incidences of serious injury. Each time a player initiates contact with his head down, he risks quadriplegia. Each time a player initiates contact head first, he increases the risk of concussion.

PROTECT YOUR HEAD AND NECK
• head-down contact and spearing poses a risk to all position players regardless of intent

Protect your head and neck! Remember, head-down contact and spearing poses a risk to all position players regardless of intent!

Safest Contact Technique
• Always make contact with your shoulder while keeping your head up

The goal of every collision should be to make contact with the shoulder while keeping your head up. The game can be played just as aggressively this way. Tacklers can still make big hits and ballcarriers can gain extra yards. This technique reduces the risk of serious head and neck injuries by keeping your head out of the axial load position and keeping your head from receiving the brunt of contact.

NFL Poster

NCAA Poster
Draft

For years the NFL has required a poster be displayed prominently in all NFL locker rooms as a reminder to play “heads-up” football. The NCAA has developed a similar poster that will be displayed in all college and university football locker rooms. The idea is to provide a daily visual reminder on safe technique and injury prevention.

PROTECT YOUR HEAD AND NECK
• “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
Ben Franklin, 1775

• “For cervical quadriplegia there is no cure”
Joe Torg, MD 1975 National FB Head & Neck Injury Registry

Benjamin Franklin once said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Joe Torg, a noted surgeon who studied cervical spine injuries in football for many years, once said “for cervical quadriplegia there is no cure”. Both quotes are just as true today as when spoken by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Torg. Protect you head and neck!

Head-Down Contact and Spearing in Football

Thank you!


				
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