An Analysis of Football Spearing Rules by mikesanye


									An Analysis Football's
           of        Spearing
By JonHeck,Mt A.T.,C., ATR.,Stockton  StateUniversity
   Thecervical spineiniury resulting contactwith the facemaskfrom their            have occurred each year.
in paralysis is one of the most      spearing rule. However,on the high                Following this premise, the
          injuriesin all of sports.
devastating                       It school level initiating contactwith           reduction in cervical spine injuries
has a tremendousimpact on the        any part of the helmet(includingthe           could be accomplishedin two rvavs.
athlete and his family through           face mask) is illegal (8). The 1976rule   Officials enforcing the spearing rule
astronomicalmedical costs,dramatic       change has caused a dramatic              during football games and coaches
lifestyle changes, and a lifetime of     reduction in the number of                teaching and practicing correct
dependenry on others. Becausethe         quadriplegic injuries occurring each      contacttechniqueswith players. The
paralysis      is permanent       and    year. In high school football it has      effectiveness of the spearing rule
rehabilitation limited, prevention of    gone from a high of 25 cases of           would therefore depend heavily on
the cervical spine injury is the only    paralysis in 1976 to a low of four in     officials and coaches.
acceptable   managementplan.             1984, which represents an 82Ea
     Torg et al (5-11) have identified   decrease(Z). Since 1981the number           EFFECTIVENESSOF THE RULE
the mechanism of cervical spine          of occurrences remained constant
                                                          has                          Has the spearing rule been a-.
injury     (fracture, dislocation,       betweenfour and nine per vear.            effective as possible? Although the
subluxation) and subsequent spinal           The number of cervical spine          level of injury reduction i:
cord damage in football as axial         fractures,/ dislocations without          impressive, I believe the ans$'er t;
loading. Axial loading occurs when       quadriplegia occurring each year are      no. In reality officials have ntt
an athlete flexes his neck to 30         equally important because spinal          enforced the spearing rulcs. In a
degreesand makes contact with the        cord iniury is secondaryto cervical       study I did of a New Jerseyfootbali
top or crown of his helmet. This         vertebra damage. Each incident of         team's 1989seasonofficials called no
position eliminates the cervical         fracture/ dislocationhasthe potential     spearing penalties (1). During ttu;
spine's normal force handling            for quadriplegia. The rule change         seasonvia game films I observed239
abilities and transfers the impact       has also reduced this number since        incidents of spearing.I believe this r'
directly to the cervical vertebrae.      1976,although not as successfully         the norm for enforcement of the
     Through the study of game films     as quadriplegia. It has reduced           spearing rule rather than the
of actual iniuries Torg found spearing   Fracture,/dislocationsfrom a high of      excePuon.
to be the causeof theseaxial loading     86 i^ 7976 to a low of 22 in 1987,            The spearing rule is the single
injuries. Spearing is defined as a       which representsa 707oreduction (7).      most important rule in football in
player lowering his head and making      It should be noted the number of          terms of consequences   (paralysis)and
contact using the top or crown           fracture/    dislocations are not         yet is probably the least enforced.
portion of his helmet.         In this   necessarily an indicator of the           One explanation may be officials d..
situation upon impact, the athlete's     incidents of quadriplegia.          For   not understand the importance of the
head stops while his body continues      example, in 1987 there were 22            rule and spearing'srelationship tr
to move forward crushing the             fracture/ dislocations and seven          catastrophicspine injuries.
cervical spine between the two. This     casesof quadriplegia, while in 1984           Another explanation is the
will only occur if the athletes neck     there were 36 fracture/ dislocations      spearing rule is the only rulc :n
position transfersthe impact directly    and only four casesof quadriplegia.       football that penalizesa player for hi;
to the cervical vertebraewith enough         The data Torg has collected           own protection. The vast majoritv oi
force to causethe vertebraeto fail. It   indicates the spearing rule has been      football infractionsprotect one plaver
is important to note in none of Torg's   very successful. The data does not        from the actionsof another (clip, face
analysis has hyperflexion           or   indicate why the spearing rule has        mask, etc.). Football adoptcd the
hyperextension been a cause of a         been effective. The most logical          spearingrule to deter and protect th.--
cataskophic neck injury resulting in     explanation is the spearing rule          player who spears. Its prima^'
paralysis. Spearinghas beenthe only      decreased the number of fracture/         function is not to protect the player
identified cause.                        dislocations by reducing the              getting speared. It is the onl)'
    Basedon this information in 1926     incidence of spearing. A decreasein       penalty in football that protects a
collegeand high schoolfootball made      the incidence of the iniury               player from himself.
spearinga rule infraction resulting in   mechanism would explain the                   I believeofficials have focusedon
a 15yard penalty or ejection. College    decrease in cervical fracture/            protecting the player who receivesa
football chose to exclude initiating     dislocations that                         spear,which is a misinterpretation of

                                                                                           The Sideline\ Vol 9, No.2, Spring 93
the rule. The spearthat is a late hit
or the sp€ar of a player who is
already down represents this
situation. In my experience officials
havenot enforcedthe rule during the

tackling processwhen most cervical
spine iniuries have occurred.
Officials havenot usedtheir flag asa
deterrent to head first contact
    What hascausedthe reductionin
cervical spine injuries? I believe it
has beenthe efforts of coaching
staffs and athletic trainersto educate
and teach athletes (1,31,10).
Educating them that spearing is a
mechanism of paralysis, Teadring
them proper contacttechniques.              number. Being tackled was also          progr€ssion should be from elow
    It is safe to state these efforts       the activity associatedwith seven       walk through skills to full- speed
have stopped most athletes from             casesof quadriplegia between 192        contact. The coachesshould focus
purposefullymakint contactwith the          and 1!)87(4).                           each drill or session solely on
top of theil heknets. I believe this            The point is eachtime any athlete   keeping the head up and initiating
removal of intent has been the              spears he increases the risk of         contact with the shoulder, The
major factor in the successof the           quadriplegia (1).      If the above     techniquehas to be drilled tn game
spearingrule. This is not to imply          spearing rate is representative of      like situations. They also should
spearinghas beenremoved from the            other high sdrools then there is a      include types of collisions Torg Q)
8ame.                                       significant amount of spearing that     identified with quadriplegia. Two
                                            can be eliminated. These numbers        athletes colliding while moving in
 FI,JRTHERREDUCING THE RISK                 indicate football needs to recognize    oppositedirections and athletes
                                            dl types of spearing (ball carriers,    meetingat an obliqueangle. Coaches
    Can the risk of catastrophicspine       blockers,and tacklers).                 and atNetic trainerr
 injuries be rcduced further? Is it             Inittating contact with the         should design drtlls for ball carriers,
 possible to lower the 30% of               shoulder while keeping the neck in      blockers,and tacklers.
 fracture/                                  extension is the safegt contact              Officials also can aid in lowering
 dislocations 207o quadriplegias
             and      of                    position (1,2). By                      the incidenceof spearing. They can
 that have remained each year? Or           observinggamefilms I found tacklers     begin by enforcingthe spearingrule
 are these iniury levels part of the        and ball carriers often were in the     during games. They also should
 inherent risk of a collision sport. I      correct position but dropped their      acknowledgespearingduring
 believe severalthings can be done          headsjust before contact. Thb may       the tackling procEsswhen it most
 that will further reduce the risk of                     not
                                            dernonstrate purposeful but             often occurs, The flag should be
 catastrophicneck injuries.                 unintentional spearing by ball          thrown on the player who spearsto
     Spea.ring an inherent risk of          carriers and tacklers. I believe this   protect the player who spears.These
 quadriplegia(12).Sincetacklershave         showsa need for more practicetime       players should include ball carriers,
 accountedfor the maprity of                to perfect proper technique during                 and
                                                                                    blockers, tacklers.      Cewicalspine
 catastrophic neck injuries (5,6,10)        the crucial instant of contact. Each     fractures/ dislocations do not
 they have been the focus of                        has
                                            pLayer to overcome instinct of
                                                                     the             discriminateby position.
 preventive techniques(1). This has         protecting his eyes and face by              Officials enforcing the spearing
 allowed the techniques of other            lowering his head at contact.            rule will deter playersfrom spearing
 positionalplayersto go urmoticed. I             Coaches should spend added          and serveas an incentivefor coaches
 found ball carriersspeared one of
                              on             time on clrrect contact technique.      to spendmore time pr€ventingit. A
 every five plays or 20Eo the plays
                           of                They should follow a regimented         15 yard penalty is a real, immediate
 p€r game(1I For such a dangerous            schedulethat spreads sessionsover       result of a spearthat a coachcan see.
  techniquethis is a surprisingly high       the entire season (1), The             Continuat on ?agc 75

Th. Sirt lij',.'., Vol 9, No2, Sltittg 9i
 Spearing Continued

 It becomes more than .56                  6. Torg JS. The Epidemiologic,          lnjuries Resulting lrom Tackle
 quadriplegias per 100,000   atNetes.      Biomechanical, Cinemalographic
                                                       and                         Football. Am Coll HealthAssoc.
 It now affects the outcome of each                        Induced
                                           Analysis Football
                                                  of              Cervical         1977i25i224-266.
 and every game.                           Spine Trauma. Athletic Trainino.
     To further reduce the risk of         JNATA.     25:
                                                  1990; 147-159.                   10. Torg JS, Sennett VegsoJJ.
 catastrophic spine iniuries officials                                             SpinalInjury the Thirdand Fourth
 must enforce the spearing rule on a       7. T o rg J S . E p id e mio lo g y ,          Vertebrae
                                                                                   Cervical        Resultingfromthe
 level with the clip, face mask, or        Pathomechanics, Prevention
                                                          and              ol      Axial Loading Mechanism: An
 hold. Coachesmust spend adequate          FootbalFinducedCervicalSDineCord        Analysis and Classificalion. Clin
 time drilling correctcontacttechnique     Trauma.ExercSpgll Sci Rev.1992;         SportsMed.1987; 159-185.
 in game like situations throughout        20:321-338.
 the season. Officials, coaches and                                         11. TorgJS,Vegso Sennet The
                                                                                             JJ,      B.
 athletic trainers must realize spearing                    Paralysis:
                                           8. TorgJS. Prevenl         Don't National Football Head and Neck
 is potentially dangerous to ball          Hit with Your Head (video).Penn  lnjuryRegistry: yea( Reporlon
 carriers. blockers, and tacklers.         Sports Medicine-NFSHSA-Riddell;  CervicalQuadriplegia.Clin Sports
 When these things are accomplished        1992.                            Med.1987; 61-72.
 the spearing rule will take a huge
 step toward maximum effectiveness.        9. Torg JS, Ouedenfeld Moyer
                                                                TC,                12. WatkinsRG. Neck Injuriesin
                                           RA,TruexR, Spealman Nichols
                                                               AD,                 Foolball       Clln Sports Med.
                                           CE. Severe CatastroDhic                      5:
                                                                                   1986; 215-247.
 1. Heck JF. The Incidence ol
 Spearing HighSchoolFoolball
        and TheirTacklers.
 Carriers                Journal
 ol Athletic Traininq. 1992;27:                               DAVID And CHARLES LEVINSON
 120-124.                                                      MEDICAL SPECIALTIES INC.
  2. HodgsonVR, ThomasLM. Play
  Head-up Football.
                 Natl Fed News.                                            Speeialists in
  1985', 24-27
       2:    .                                                    P hy sical Ther apy Equipm,ent
 3. MuellerFO, BlythCS. Fatalities
 lromHead Cervical
          and        SpineInjuries                                          * Ultrasound. *
 Occurring in Tackle Football: 40                                       * Muscle Stimulators x
 Years'Experience. SportsMed.
 1987; 185-196.
                                                                            x Whirlpools x
                                                                          * Hydrocollators *
  4. MuellerFO, BlythCS, CantuRC.                                           * Cold. Po,chs*
  Catastrophic Spine Injuries in
  Football.Phvs SEIWSL Oclober
  1989;17:51-53.                                                           RD #1, Box 189
                                                                         Jackson, N.J.,08527
  5 . To r g JS. E pidemiology,
  Pathomechanics, Prevention
                   And        of
         Iniuries theCervical
                to         Spine.                                             1-800-542-0064
  Med Sci Soorts Exerc. 1985;17:

The Sidelind, VoI 9, No.2, Spring 93

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