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Bengals punter Huber suffered the mildest type of neck injury: Clay shoveler’s fracture

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After last week’s Cincinnati Bengals game, I’ve had a lot of people asking me about punter Kevin Huber’s neck injury. They just can’t believe he’s going to be back and ready to play next season.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about his injury.

When people hear neck injury, they think it’s serious, for good reason. But this young player suffered the mildest type, and in about 4 to 6 weeks, it will have healed on its own.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

0:00

HORNER: Joining us live right now is our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center, at Akron Children’s Hospital. Joe, what do you have for us this morning?

DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. You know the sports medicine picture of the week – I guess because they’re always the highlight games or some of the night games –  was people asking about the jaw fracture and neck fracture of the punter, Kevin Huber for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

There were a lot of people asking me particularly about the cervical fracture, the neck fracture, saying, “Geez, how does he know already that he would be able to return? You know, a fractured neck, that sounds very, very serious.”

But, there is a type of fracture that we see not infrequently in sports medicine and, you know, we love these catchy names. It’s called a clay shoveler’s fracture.

And, actually, Ray, it’s kind of the point of the cervical vertebrae — the bone in the neck, usually the lowest one in the neck, C7 — and it has a pointy projection coming out the backside of it called the spinous process. When your head is forced into a hyper-extended position, a little piece of the end can be pulled off of that spinous process.

The key to a clay shoveler’s fracture — the name of this fracture — is it’s not near the spinal cord; it doesn’t have anything to do with any paralysis. It is not worrisome for pinching nerves, like a stinger or a burner or a neck injury that’s going to cause neurologic damage.

So, the point of the matter is, usually in four to six weeks these heal on their own. You wear a cervical collar for awhile.

This young guy, the punter, was saying that he expects to be playing golf in 6 weeks and playing football next spring for sure. A lot of people were just surprised by that.

Now, on the other hand, he’s having surgery on the fractured jaw. It was quite a hit that that young man took.

HORNER: Yeah. I was shocked when they said he’d be ready to go for next football season. That really surprised me.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, so again, you really have to know what you’re dealing with. A much worse fracture is a burst fracture, where the actual vertebrae itself — the rectangular vertebrae — breaks. Or, a wedge fracture, where there’s going to be problems with the disc and there could be pinching on the spinal cord.

There’s a thing called spear tackler’s spine, which is what Chris Spielman had. Remember that Spielman could not play a single play for the Browns when they saw that he had this type of injury. They put [him] at risk for paralysis or major spinal cord injury.

But, this one that this young man had is the most mild form, and it’s one that people, even high-school players, are back playing in six weeks or eight weeks.

So, the real key is you have to know what is the fracture; where is the injury; and what to do with it/how to manage it.

HORNER: Alright. Good stuff, Joe. Thanks a lot for the time.

Great year again in 2013. We’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks because we’ve got Christmas and New Year’s coming up.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, thanks so much, Ray. Have a great holiday season with your family and really enjoy. You do such great things in this community. You’re really one of the gems of our community. Thanks for all you do, Ray.

HORNER: And thanks on the same side to you and your family. Thanks, Joe.

DR. CONGENI: Thanks.

HORNER: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, joining us.

About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.