Newswise — Charlottesville, VA (August 24, 2021).  Harvard researchers examined data on sports-related traumatic spine injuries (TSIs) to see if different sports activities tend to result in particular injuries. They found that accidents involving cycling are by far the most frequent cause of TSIs, followed by accidents due to skiing and snowboarding. Detailed findings of this study can be found in a new article, “Adult sports-related traumatic spinal injuries: do different activities predispose to certain injuries?” by Blake M. Hauser and colleagues, published today in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine (

The authors examined data on 80,040 adult cases of sports-related traumatic injuries, focusing specifically on 12,031 cases of sports-related TSIs, which consisted of vertebral bone fractures and/or spinal cord injuries. Data on all these patients were collected retrospectively from entries made to the National Trauma Data Bank between 2011 and 2014. Multiple imputation was used when record data were missing.

Eighty-two percent of patients with TSIs were male, and 78% were White. Patients with TSIs tended to be slightly older than all patients with sports-related injuries (median ages 48 and 43 years, respectively).

Cycling incidents accounted for 81% of sports-related TSIs, skiing and snowboarding accidents for 12%, aquatic sport and contact sport mishaps for 3% each, and skateboarding and rollerblading accidents for 1%. Fifteen percent of patients with TSI presented with traumatic injuries to the spinal cord. These cord injuries were most prevalent in patients with aquatic sports–related injuries (49%) and those with contact sports–related injuries (41%).

Among all patients with sports-related TSIs, most injuries were caused by motor vehicle accidents (81%) and by falls (14%); it is important to note that the patients involved in motor vehicle accidents were not inside the vehicle. This distribution was not dissimilar to that for all sports-related injuries, in which the authors found 76% due to motor vehicle accidents and 19% due to falls.

Nine percent of patients with sports-related TSIs required surgery during their initial stay in the hospital. Patients with sports-related TSIs were likely to remain in the hospital on average 2 days longer and those with sports-related traumatic spinal cord injuries 7 days longer than patients with non-TSI sports-related injuries.

The severity of injuries and adverse outcomes were determined based on stays in the intensive care unit (ICU) and post-hospital discharge disposition. Patients with sports-related TSI were significantly more likely to spend time in the ICU than patients with other sports-related injuries. Furthermore, patients with sports-related TSI were more likely to be discharged to another hospital, a rehabilitation facility, or home requiring rehabilitative services (adverse outcomes) than all patients with sports-related injuries (32% vs. 17% of patients, respectively). Finally, although the percentage of patients who died in the hospital was low, patients with TSI were more likely to die in the hospital than patients with other sports-related injuries. Patients with traumatic spinal cord injuries were more likely than other patients with TSIs to be transferred to the ICU or die.

Traumatic spine injuries are serious injuries that can lead to significant disability or even death. Given that the majority of TSIs reviewed in this study were related to cycling accidents, the authors suggest that policies designed to make cycling safer should be implemented.

When asked about the findings of this study, Blake Hauser responded, “Using a national, multicenter database, our team was able to identify associations between sports-related traumatic spine injuries and clinical outcomes. These findings can be used to inform future research directions, including research regarding policy recommendations to prevent these injuries."


Article: Hauser BM, Gupta S, Hoffman SE, Zaki MM, Roffler AA, Cote DJ, Lu Y, Chi JH, Groff MW, Khawaja AM, Smith TR, Zaidi HA. Adult sports-related traumatic spinal injuries: do different activities predispose to certain injuries? J Neurosurg Spine, published ahead of print August 24, 2021. DOI: 10.3171/2021.1.SPINE201860.

Grant funding: National Institute of General Medical Sciences T32 GM007753, National Institutes of Health T32 CA009001.

Disclosures: Dr. Chi is a consultant for K2M and received clinical or research support from Spineology for the study described. Dr. Groff is a consultant for DePuy Spine, NuVasive Spine, and SpineArt.



The Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine is a monthly peer-reviewed journal focused on neurosurgical approaches to treatment of diseases and disorders of the spine. It contains a variety of articles, including descriptions of preclinical and clinical research as well as case reports and technical notes. The Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine is one of six journals published by the JNS Publishing Group, the scholarly journal division of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Other peer-reviewed journals published by the JNS Publishing Group each month include Journal of Neurosurgery, Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Journal of Neurosurgery: Case Lessons, Neurosurgical Focus, and Neurosurgical Focus: Video. All six journals can be accessed at

Founded in 1931 as the Harvey Cushing Society, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is a scientific and educational association with more than 10,000 members worldwide. The AANS is dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to provide the highest quality of neurosurgical care to the public. All active members of the AANS are certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Neurosurgery) of Canada, or the Mexican Council of Neurological Surgery, AC. Neurological surgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the entire nervous system including the brain, spinal column, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. For more information, visit

Journal Link: Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, August 24, 2021