Spinal Injuries

Catastrophic spinal injuries are rare. However when they occur, they have life changing implications for the person involved. In sport, this injury usually occurs in the context of a contested rugby scrum but may also occur in dangerous tackles and rucks. Up to mid 1980's, the was a increase in the frequency of rugby union spinal injuries worldwide. Since then, rates have been falling in the United Kingdom and Australia. It has been suggested that the success of these countries in reducing the rate of spinal injuries is due to changes by rugby union authorities in managing the scrum and by the increase in spinal awareness due to high profile legal action by injured players.

The Medical Journal of Australia has published measures to help reduce the incidence of spinal injuries in rugby union.
  • Awareness programs for players, coaches and referees
  • Careful player selection
  • An emphasis on player fitness and neck-strengthening exercises
  • Amendment of the rules of the game, particularly in relation to the scrum, tackle, ruck and maul
  • Enforcement of the rules of the game

In 1975, Neil Sachse of Footscray (now AFL Western Bulldogs) was left a quadriplegic after a collision with a Fitzroy player. He has established the Neil Sachse Foundation to support Spinal Cord Injury Research in Australia. In the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Ivory Coast winger Max Brito was rendered a quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a ruck. Jarrod McCracken of the Wests Tigers suffered neck and spinal injuries following a spear tackle by two Melbourne Storm players on the 12th May 2000.
NRL spear tackle
Jarrod McCracken of the Wests Tigers in a spear tackle by two Melbourne Storm players. Round 15 NRL match 12th May 2000.
(Image sourced from Channel Nine News)