Fatalities from head and cervical spine injuries occurring in tackle football: 50 years’ experience.

Mueller FO. Clin Sports Med 1998 Jan;17(1):169-82.

Football head and cervical spine fatalities have been related to 84.9% of all football fatalities from 1945 through 1994. The decade from 1965 through 1974 was responsible for the greatest number and percentage of head and cervical spine fatalities, and the two decades from 1975 through 1994 were associated with the smallest number and percentage. The data reveal that most head and cervical spine fatalities are related to high school football players either tackling or being tackled in a game. Most head fatalities are subdural hematomas, and almost all of the cervical spine fatalities are fractures, dislocations, or fracture-dislocations. There has been a dramatic reduction in these types of fatalities during the last two decades, 1975 through 1994, and the preventive measures that have received most of the credit have been the 1976 rule change that prohibits initial contact with the head and face when blocking and tackling, the NOCSAE helmet standard that went into effect in colleges in 1978 and high schools in 1980, better coaching in the techniques of blocking and tackling, and improved medical care. There has been a reduction of head and cervical spine fatalities, but the analysis of data for the next decade, 1995 through 2004, will reveal the continued effects of the preventive measures discussed and continued research efforts. A number of researchers have stated that in order for the head and cervical spine fatalities to continue decreasing, there must be increased helmet research with an emphasis on concussions and neck injuries. Will the number of fatalities continue to decrease? Only time will tell.

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