In the first episode of Friday Night Lights, a high school quarterback suffers a paralyzing spinal-cord injury (SCI) on the football field. As his community struggles to absorb this devastating blow, the show’s oracle, Coach Taylor, intones: “Life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all at some point in our lives fall—we will all fall.”
According to a 2016 article in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, researchers have identified countries with the highest incidence of SCIs that are sports-related (Russia, Fiji, New Zealand, Iceland, France, and Canada) and sports with the highest risk (diving, skiing, rugby, and horseback riding). Although there are many mandatory helmet laws worldwide for bikes and motorcycles, almost no standards are in place for spine protectors—or recommendations for their use in sports.
Most spine protectors are made for motorcyclists and are variations of belts or armor that restrict movement or absorb blows. But a new project out of Graz, Austria—the Rotational Spine Protection (RSP) System—acts as a “second skin” with straps and buckles that fit onto the body and “lock” movement inside a certain range, keeping the wearer in a green zone of safe motion. If spinal rotation enters a critical range, the tightening straps capture and absorb the excess rotational energy.
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