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Key Terms

Diving towers

Diving wells

Front bun

Head-splint turnover

Panel mats

Pole vault crossbar standards

Pole vault landing pit

Scoop stretcher

Soft foam landing pits

Split litter backboard

Vault box

Waveless water entry


During a routine track practice, several pole vaulters are working with their coach. A vaulter plants her pole in the box, takes off from the runway, and inverts her body as the pole begins to bend normally. Suddenly, the pole breaks, and the athlete lands on her head and neck in the box. She is unmoving with her head and shoulders in the box and the rest of her body lying on the elevated surface of the front bun of the landing pit. As the athletic trainer, what should you do?


Since 1990 approximately 11,000 spinal cord injuries per year have been reported in North America. It is estimated that approximately 7% of these are the result of sports participation.1 A study published in 1998 stated that the overall incidence of spinal cord injuries in the United States was approximately 4 per 100,000 people; of these, 5% to 10% were the result of sports participation.2

Certain sports may present the athletic trainer or other caregiver with a difficult emergency care situation because of the unusual environments in which they take place. Emergency care is always a demanding undertaking and particularly so when it involves a potentially catastrophic injury. When a caregiver is faced with having to extricate an injured athlete from an unstable surface or from the water, the level of difficulty for the rescuer and the potential risk to the injured athlete increase significantly.

There can be little doubt that improper immediate management of a potential cervical spine injury can worsen, or even cause, such an injury. It has been reported that an estimated 25% of cervical spine injuries happen during, or are aggravated by, emergency extrication and transport; approximately 40% of these injuries result in permanent neurological deficit.3 In a worst-case scenario, improper management of a cervical spine injury could result in compromise of cardiac and respiratory function. Athletic trainers who have a duty to athletes involved in sports such as gymnastics, pole vault, diving, and ice hockey must be prepared to effectively respond to emergency situations in these particularly challenging environments.

imageSTAT Point 12-1. Improper management of a cervical spine injury can worsen the injury, sometimes resulting in a catastrophic outcome.

The Soft Foam Pit in Gymnastics

It is not surprising that the sport of gymnastics has among the highest rates of spinal cord injury. During the period 1973 ...

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