A Case Study: Spinal Injuries of a Collegiate Football Athlete

Student Author(s)

Abbie Zuiderveen

Faculty Mentor(s)

Margaret Frens, Kinesiology, Timothy Koberna, Kinesiology

Document Type


Event Date



The human nervous system provides opportunities to experience so many positive sensations through smell, touch, and activity. However, when the nervous system malfunctions, intense negative sensations can override the positive experiences and cause miserable pain. Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows and impinges upon the spinal cord causing radicular symptoms to travel throughout the body. Stenosis can be caused by genetic deterioration over time as well as through traumatic injury. Genetically, some individuals are predisposed to have deteriorating vertebral disks within their spinal column which can cause the nucleus pulposus to impinge on the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots. Impingement is also caused by general swelling or trauma within the spinal canal. Mechanisms of injury for traumatic incidents include high velocity neck extension, brachial plexus stretch, and repeated collisions with high amounts of force. This case study looked at a 19-year-old Division III male collegiate football player. After being involved in a larger collision, the athlete’s arms would go numb, which made holding the ball and making an effective play increasingly more difficult. Initially, symptoms were tolerable and the athlete persevered. However, eventually the athlete’s performance was affected enough where he was told to refrain from participating in football after the physician's diagnosis. His genetics as well as extracurricular activities created the perfect storm, which led to his diagnosis of cervical disk disorder with bilateral radiculopathy as well as neural foraminal stenosis of the cervical spine.Treatments to reduce symptoms include neural mobilization and cervical tension, transverse oscillatory pressure, strengthening of muscular stabilizers, and proper posture. Surgical intervention is required in extreme cases. More research is critical for determining better solutions for pain control as well as the potential for return to play for athletic individuals who want to participate in sport.

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