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Spinal cord injury can occur when the bones in the neck are fractured (i.e. when a person "breaks their neck") during head first impact.

SCI in the cervical region (the neck) frequently results in irreversible paralysis of all four limbs. There is currently no cure for SCI.

The cervical region of the spine is unfortunately also its weakest and more than half of all cases of SCI in the U.S. and Canada involve injuries to this region.

More than 13,000 people sustain SCI in North America each year. Approximately 10% of these injuries occur in activities where the participants are wearing a helmet such as football and ice hockey.

"injury to the spinal cord results in a complete and irreversible loss of mobility and sensation in large areas of the body in up to 45% of all cases1"

A lot of progress has been made to protect athletes from injury to the head, torso, and limbs through the use of helmets and padding. However, injury to the neck is still a serious problem in sports such as football and hockey2. Neck protection devices designed to prevent injuries from excessive motion of the head due to inertial loading in race car collisions, such as the HANS device, have been successful in the prevention of certain injuries to the neck. However one dangerous mode of neck loading, axial compression arising from head-first impacts, remains unprotected in sports such as hockey, mountain biking, football, horseback riding, skiing and snowboarding. While these injuries are rare, they frequently lead to paralysis and a significant loss of quality-of-life for its sufferers. There is presently no cure for this paralysis. For this reason injury prevention is of the utmost importance in these sports. Progress towards prevention has been made through rules that banned head-first tackling in football and checking from behind in hockey. We believe that further advances in prevention in any scenario where head-first impact happens to a helmeted player can be made. There is an engineered safety device (the helmet) already in place in many sports which could have its role extended to prevent the neck injury. This is the concept embodied by Pro-Neck-Tor™.

The spinal cord is one of the most sensitive and important structures in the human body. The cord contains thousands of nerves that connect organs and muscles in the lower body with the brain and cerebellum. There is much research being done to improve clinical outcomes from spinal cord injury but there is currently no definitive treatment or cure for it. Injury to the spinal cord results in a complete and irreversible loss of mobility and sensation in large areas of the body in up to 45% of all cases. This is especially the case for spinal cord injuries at the neck or cervical level such as shown in the CT scan image at right, where injuries can lead to the paralysis of both arms and legs. Even though the cervical spinal cord is protected by vertebrae throughout the neck, these vertebrae are relatively weaker than those further down the spine, and well over half of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. and Canada occur in the cervical region.1,3

The high speeds and contact forces that make many of today's sports so demanding and exciting are also responsible for the large number of spinal cord injuries amongst players of all skill levels in many sports. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center maintains detailed data on over 24,000 cases of spinal cord injury in the U.S., of these cases approximately 10% (2,300) happened during activities involving the use of a helmet, such as riding a motorcycle, playing football or practicing a variety of winter sports.1

The direct costs of managing spinal cord injuries in the U.S. alone exceeds the $7 billion mark.4 While it is known that cervical spinal cord injuries impose great financial costs to injured individuals and to the health care system, the horrific loss of quality-of-life of the individuals paralyzed by SCI outweighs even the substantial financial costs associated with treatment and rehabilitation. The Pro-Neck-Tor™ helmet technology under development at the Orthopaedic Injury and Biomechanics Group of The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada has the potential to reduce some of the financial costs and quality of life consequences associate with these injuries. It is being designed to prevent of SCI while being equally effective at preventing injuries to the head following impact. To learn about the researchers behind the Pro-Neck-Tor™ tehcnology click here.

1. National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Centre, University of Alabama at Birmingham: 2006 Annual Statistical Report, July, 2006.
2. Banerjee R, Palumbo MA, Fadale PD. Catastrophic cervical spine injuries in the collision sport athlete, part 1: epidemiology, functional anatomy, and diagnosis. Am J Sports Med 2004;32:1077-87
3. Pickett GE, Campos-Benitez M, Keller JL, et al. Epidemiology of traumatic spinal cord injury in Canada. Spine 2006;31:799-805
4. DeVivo MJ. Causes and costs of spinal cord injury in the United States. Spinal Cord 1997;35:809-13