Complete spinal cord injuries do not often occur in professional sports, but they can produce devastating results when they do. Although the primary injury is serious, a substantial amount of damage occurs during the secondary response to the injury. Much research has focused on reducing this secondary response, by slowing inflammation, cell death, or bleeding.
One treatment that has been proven useful in reducing secondary damage in traumatic brain injury and stroke is hypothermia, or the cooling of body temperature. A well-timed treatment of hypothermia can lower metabolic demands, which helps to decrease inflammation and cell death-hopefully to stop further damage and aid in recovery.
A medical team recently reported a case study of an NFL football player who sustained a spinal injury during a helmet-to-helmet hit. The player had complete paralysis and sensory loss below the clavicles at his initial evaluation. His medical team applied a moderate hypothermia treatment during his ambulance ride, which was continued throughout his standard treatment.
Within 3 days, the player was showing considerable motor and sensory improvement, and continued to improve even after his subsequent discharge. Although the researchers noted that it was difficult to evaluate the amount of recovery directly related to the systemic hypothermia, they believe the treatment was a valuable one.
Cappuccino A, Bisson LJ, Carpenter B, et al. The use of systemic hypothermia for the treatment of an acute cervical spinal cord injury in a professional football player. Spine. (January 2010).