When soccer players suffer injuries to the cervical spine, they are most often injuries to the musculoskeletal system including strain, sprain or spasm. This is usually the result of a sudden, unexpected twist or turn, or more commonly known as "whiplash". The majority of the time, a soccer player injures their neck following a headed ball. Through specific positioning of the neck and upper back, a soccer athlete can brace for impact while transferring maximal force through their spine and prevent injury. The skill of "bracing" shoulder be incorporated into practice especially for the young athletes who may not have well-developed neck musculature.

The two most commonly injured muscles are the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius and present with specific symptoms usually including sharp or burning pain midway between the neck and shoulder. Following injury and with a diagnosis of a muscular strain with more severe injuries ruled out the athlete will begin treatment under the supervision of a physical therapist or athletic trainer in order to restore strength and mobility following the proper progression. With good education and practice of how to properly head the ball, the soccer athlete could reduce their risk of suffering from a neck injury.

During the 2014 World Cup, players from the German, French, Argentinian, and Brazilian teams experienced back or neck injuries. Brazil’s star player Neymar was probably the most publicized back injury during the tournament. Neymar fractured his vertebra during his team’s quarterfinal match, when he was kneed in the back during the game. Neymar did not play in the remainder of the tournament and Brazil lost its semifinal and third place matches, which was often attributed to its debilitating loss of its star player. The team doctor said that it was important that Neymar “immobilize [the injury] to recover.”

In the case of Neymar’s injury, the team doctor responded responsibly to the injuries of its player. However, this year’s tournament was not without its controversial injury-related decisions. The NY Times recently pointed out that FIFA has “has generally put the onus for handling these situations on team doctors” and that perhaps they should use neutral doctors, who can keep the player from returning to the game if it’s medically in his best interest.

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For more information, see the Demos Health Infographic "A World of Pain" or "Soccer Injury Prevention and Treatment" at the Demos Health Store.