Serious Injury from Heading a Soccer Ball

Research recently revealed that repeatedly heading a soccer ball can lead to concussion-like brain injuries.

Now, an even more serious type of injury from heading a soccer ball is discussed in a brief article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).  Paraphrasing from the article (which is filled with medical jargon), a healthy 18-year-old man had sudden total paralysis of his body from about the neck down. Ten minutes later, he recovered normal strength. During an examination, he had intense neck pain, numbness and tingling in his shoulders and arms, but no other nerve problems.

The lessons:  1) Heading a soccer ball is not a benign activity; and 2) it’s important never to ignore subtle—and not so subtle—signs of nerve damage. Numbness, tingling, that pins-and-needles feeling, and paralysis are signs of potential spinal cord injury. Seek medical care immediately.

The physician ordered an MRI, which showed a bulging disk herniation between the C3 and C4 vertebrae in the neck. In addition, there was severe spinal cord compression (at the arrow in the left side of the photo). The patient was admitted for urgent surgery. He had a diskectomy (where the damaged C3-C4 disk was removed), a cervical plate, and a stabilizing cage.

Despite the extreme damage to his neck, the young man recovered full sensation in his arms and legs, and had no nerve problems after surgery.

Here’s the most optimistic (yet surprising part), the patient was able to once again play soccer 6 months after surgery.

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