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The case for early treatment of dislocations of the cervical spine with cord involvement sustained playing rugby

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The most common injury in rugby resulting in spinal cord injury (SCI) is cervical facet dislocation. We report on the outcome of a series of 57 patients with acute SCI and facet dislocation sustained when playing rugby and treated by reduction between 1988 and 2000 in Conradie Hospital, Cape Town. A total of 32 patients were completely paralysed at the time of reduction. Of these 32, eight were reduced within four hours of injury and five of them made a full recovery. Of the remaining 24 who were reduced after four hours of injury, none made a full recovery and only one made a partial recovery that was useful. Our results suggest that low-velocity trauma causing SCI, such as might occur in a rugby accident, presents an opportunity for secondary prevention of permanent SCI. In these cases the permanent damage appears to result from secondary injury, rather than primary mechanical spinal cord damage. In common with other central nervous system injuries where ischaemia determines the outcome, the time from injury to reduction, and hence reperfusion, is probably important.

In order to prevent permanent neurological damage after rugby injuries, cervical facet dislocations should probably be reduced within four hours of injury.

Correspondence should be sent to Mr B. P. Gardner; e-mail:

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