COVINGTON, La. -- After a St. Paul High School student suffered a spinal injury during a football game last week, parents are renewing discussions over just how dangerous playing football can be.

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Dr. Greg Stewart is a co-director of the Sports Medicine Program at Tulane University. He said spinal injuries in football are debilitating, but not common.

“You don’t see it very often,” Stewart said. “It’s not as common as you would expect.”

The American Journal of Sports Medicine said high school football is one of the most popular sports, with 1.5 million students playing.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that from 1977 to 2006 there were 222 spinal cord injuries causing permanent damage at the high school football level, compared to 9 at the professional level. Education could be the answer.

“You can try to do prevention from the point of tackling techniques, some of this is the rugby techniques there doing to try and prevent concussions as well but there's really not any good equipment out there that prevents these injuries from happening,” Stewart said.

The doctor recommends weighing the risk of a spinal injury from sports to the risk of suffering a spinal injury in daily life, such as from a car accident. He said to know your risks, but also know your rewards.
“It's the comradery, it's the lifelong relationships they develop, it's the life lessons they learn based on football,” Stewart said.

While any spinal injury is tragic, Dr. Stewart said if you're trying to decide whether or not your child should play football based on traumatic injury, keep in mind car accidents cause 12,000 spinal injuries a year, versus 2.3 injuries a year among football players in Louisiana.