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Ann Emerg Med. 1998 Oct;32(4):411-7.

Emergency removal of football equipment: a cadaveric cervical spine injury model.

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Department of Orthopaedics, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, RI, USA.



To determine the influence of football helmet and shoulder pads, alone or in combination, on alignment of the unstable cervical spine.


The alignment of the intact cervical spine in 8 cadavers was assessed radiographically under 4 different football equipment conditions: (1) no equipment, (2) helmet only, (3) helmet and shoulder pads, and (4) shoulder pads only. Each specimen was then surgically destabilized at C5-C6 to simulate a flexion-distraction injury. Repeat radiographs were obtained under the same 4 equipment conditions, and alignment of the unstable segment was analyzed.


Before the destabilization, neutral alignment was maintained when both helmet and shoulder pads were in place. The "helmet only" condition caused a significant decrease in lordosis (mean, 9.6 +/- 4.7 degrees), whereas the "shoulder pads only" condition caused increased lordosis (13.6 +/- 6.3 degrees). After destabilization, the "helmet-only" condition demonstrated significant mean increases in C5-C6 forward angulation (16.5 +/- 8.6 degrees), posterior disc space height (3.8 +/- 2.3 mm), and dorsal element distraction (8.3 +/- 5.4 mm).


Our flexion-distraction model demonstrated that immobilization of the neck-injured football player with only the helmet in place violates the principle of splinting the cervical spine in neutral alignment. By extrapolation to an extension-type injury, immobilization with only the shoulder pads left in place similarly violates this principle. In order to maintain a neutral position and minimize secondary injury to the cervical neural elements, the helmet and shoulder pads should be either both left on or both removed in the emergency setting.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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