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UpstateBonehead

Neck Injuries and the Physics of Hard Openings?

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Hi all:

Before I pose my question, a little background:

I'm a 49 year old male, 6', 200 lbs and still pretty in-shape for my age (hell, my live-in girlfriend of 4 years is 25 so...;)). But, I did lead a pretty "rough" life in my youth (lots of head and neck injuries in sports and other less acceptable extracurricular activities).

I made my first tandem jump about a year ago, got hooked and started the student program making my way through to Solos.

In early October, I was on a solo jump (managed a couple of good (intentional) forward flips in freefall) when I had a VERY hard opening which left my arms and legs largely numb and unmovable under canopy at 3,000 feet (Thank God I had a good canopy; not sure I could have accomplished a cut-away).

I managed to get my hands into the toggles and flew the canopy back to the DZ. Landed into a perfect light steady breeze, promptly fell on my ass and thanked God I made it back.

Then the pain hit. I've played 7 minutes of American football on a broken leg and been beaten to unconsciousness by a drunk with a 2x4. Nothing compared to this pain. Every nerve was on fire (even my hair hurt).

15 hours in 2 different emergency rooms, x-rays, MRIs and CAT scans (the Dilauadid was nice tho :ph34r: ) , a visit to my doctor and a visit to a spinal surgeon confirmed that I had fairly severe spinal stenosis at C5-C6 (not really caused by skydiving). The hard opening must have compressed the disks/spinal cord and the nerve roots, which caused the numbness and "shocking" sensation down arms and legs.

Truth be told, I kinda knew something was going on because I knew I had a blown disk in my neck (happened maybe 10 years ago) and my hands and arms were going numb with increasing regularity.

So, here I sit in a neck brace 2 weeks after a discectomy/spinal fusion surgery, including removal of bone spurs. Everything appears to be healing nicely, and most of the pain from the surgery is gone.

Prior to the surgery, I specifically discussed jumping again with my surgeon and he didn't seem to have any problem with me doing so (assuming the operation/recovery were successful).

So, I told you that story to ask this question:

Even if the doctor gives me the all clear to jump again (yeah, I know; I've thought about all the risks and will continue to do so until I let go of the strut the next time), I was considering some sort of low-profile neck brace (similar to what professional motorcycle and snowmobile drivers wear) to help mitigate the risk.

But, before I do so, I thought I would see if anyone has insight into the actual physics of a "hard opening."? It seems to me (admittedly, a novice) that the head's inertia in a hard opening would force the head/neck forward onto the chest. But, I guess I could envision a "whiplash" like scenario where the head gets forced backwards, thereby hyperextending the neck in a rearward direction. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Of course, I'll check with my Instructors/more experienced Jumpers at the DZ, but the DZ is closed for the winter!

Sorry for the long winded post.

Be well and safe.
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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BTDT, seen the 'stars'. Gymnastics & martial arts are all similar. Keep your chin tucked forward tightly into your neck. You are much less likely to suffer an injury that way.

After you pitch, tuck the chin and wait. Do NOT try to look at your canopy during deployment. It won't make it open any better. If you have a mal, you'll know it anyway. If a shitstorm has evidenced, you'll be in better shape to take care of business.
Every fight is a food fight if you're a cannibal

Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man. - Anthony Burgess

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kuai43

Keep your chin tucked forward tightly into your neck. You are much less likely to suffer an injury that way.

After you pitch, tuck the chin and wait. Do NOT try to look at your canopy during deployment. It won't make it open any better.



I have to disagree, from personal experience. My advice would actually be the exact opposite.

Had two nasty openings in a row. After the first one, I tucked my chin (as someone told me to) on the second opening and ended up with three herniated discs. Tucking it put me in a more head-down type position, which caused the backward whip to be even worse.

Since recovering from the injury and talking with several people, I now make sure my head is as far back as I can put it while pulling and through opening. This won't affect the actual opening in any way (though it is nice to see your opening), but in case it's hard, my head is already as far back as it can go - no whiplash.

Just my opinion and personal experience ... perhaps the science behind it is the same and I'm just stronger holding my head back rather than forward.

Best of luck to the OP healing quickly!
You may never get rid of the butterflies, but you can teach them to fly in formation.

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And I make sure that I'm in a position that encourages ending up butt down and head up with regards to the opening. But if compression is a huge problem, rather than instability, that's not so good.

I'd say that a beginning skydiver with neck issues is problematic, simply because you don't have the experience to understand and control the variables during an opening. Not impossible, but someone with a mess of jumps has personal experience enough to anticipate when to sit up, tuck, look, or anything else. An opening is a somewhat dynamic and chaotic event. Sometimes.

Wendy P.
There is nothing more dangerous than breaking a basic safety rule and getting away with it. It removes fear of the consequences and builds false confidence. (tbrown)

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EChen22

*** Keep your chin tucked forward tightly into your neck. You are much less likely to suffer an injury that way.

After you pitch, tuck the chin and wait. Do NOT try to look at your canopy during deployment. It won't make it open any better.



I have to disagree, from personal experience. My advice would actually be the exact opposite.

Had two nasty openings in a row. After the first one, I tucked my chin (as someone told me to) on the second opening and ended up with three herniated discs. Tucking it put me in a more head-down type position, which caused the backward whip to be even worse.

Since recovering from the injury and talking with several people, I now make sure my head is as far back as I can put it while pulling and through opening. This won't affect the actual opening in any way (though it is nice to see your opening), but in case it's hard, my head is already as far back as it can go - no whiplash.

Just my opinion and personal experience ... perhaps the science behind it is the same and I'm just stronger holding my head back rather than forward.

Best of luck to the OP healing quickly!
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Good luck with that ... :S

Life is short ... jump often.

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Thanks for the replies and well wishes.

As I understand my issue from my surgeon, it's not so much a compression problem as it is an extension problem. As the result of the bone spurs and a narrow channel in C5-6, over extending my neck (an action that would cause a normal person a temporary "stinger") resulted in a significant "pinch" of the cord and roots in that one area. The rest of my cervical spine is perfectly normal. Which is why he thinks that a successful surgery may fix the problem.

That having been said, I still want to do everything I can to avoid further trauma to my neck.
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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EChen22



I have to disagree, from personal experience. My advice would actually be the exact opposite.

Had two nasty openings in a row. After the first one, I tucked my chin (as someone told me to) on the second opening and ended up with three herniated discs. Tucking it put me in a more head-down type position, which caused the backward whip to be even worse.



You simply did it wrong, probably didn't keep the tuck and changed your overall body position as well. As has been mentioned, good luck with that.
Study the anatomy of the neck.
Every fight is a food fight if you're a cannibal

Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man. - Anthony Burgess

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I have studied this subject A LOT. Here is the true, tested, and tried info:

On opening, look at the horizon, do NOT tuck the neck. Keep the head level, do not look up at the opening canopy. This is the best neck alignment in case of high G-forces.

Jump a slow opening canopy (Spectre, Pilot).

Install larger slider from the canopy manufacturer.

Jump F-111 pilotchute, no more than 27- to 30-inches.

Slow down before opening.

Make tight line stows (12-14 lbs needed to unstow each stow), 2-inch long.

Install Dacron lines on your canopy:
http://www.dropzone.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?post=4448401#4448401

WATCH THESE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVAoiLl2B6M

http://performancedesigns.com/docs/hrdopn.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Nsca5add8g

http://vimeo.com/19308765


Hope this helps !

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skydiverek

I have studied this subject A LOT. Here is the true, tested, and tried info:

On opening, look at the horizon, do NOT tuck the neck. Keep the head level, do not look up at the opening canopy. This is the best neck alignment in case of high G-forces.

Hope this helps !



FWIW, your chin works as an excellent 'stop' for hyperflexion (head rolling forward) if you tuck it tightly into the top of your sternum (not jutting it out - if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't try it). By keeping muscular tension on that position, you'll have the best chance of preventing hyperextension (head tilting backwards). Trying to keep the head level during deployment will still require muscle tension, however the sudden rotation of your lower body under you during an unexpectedly *FAST* canopy opening is going to challenge that ability significantly. Besides, you are not likely to be sitting exactly straight up at the precise point of sudden canopy inflation.

If you're in doubt, try this little test... brace yourself, standing upright, head up, and have someone abruptly and forcefully push you from behind right on the shoulder blades. Then do it with your chin tucked tightly. Video it from the side. You should see a significant difference in the amount of hyperextension. Now imagine the force multiplied exponentially to compare with a real hard opening.

As I said, BTDT. I've had the back of my helmet strike my upper back. Numbness, stars, all the fun. I credit having stretched and strengthened my neck through martial arts to having kept that experience, just an 'experience'.

Disclaimer: If you try this test, you assume all risks of injury. B|

BTW, skydiverek didn't mention not wearing camera setups.
Every fight is a food fight if you're a cannibal

Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man. - Anthony Burgess

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Install Dacron lines on your canopy:
http://www.dropzone.com/...post=4448401#4448401

WATCH THESE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVAoiLl2B6M

http://performancedesigns.com/docs/hrdopn.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Nsca5add8g

http://vimeo.com/19308765


Hope this helps !




Very helpful stuff!!! Thanks a bunch!
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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Disclaimer: If you try this test, you assume all risks of injury.

BTW, skydiverek didn't mention not wearing camera setups.



The lawyer in me apprciates the disclaimer. ;)

Thanks; once I'm out of the neck brace, I'll try it (with an acknowledgement of the assumption of the risk).
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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Be sure to discuss this stuff with your instructors, your profile indicates you are a student.

If a student came to me with a question about the safety of jumping with any injury it would fall into the "if you have to ask, the answer is no" category. Especially the neck!!!

To be safe, we plan for the worst. What happens if you get kicked in the face and your neck tweaks in free fall? If your body goes numb, like in your example, how do you plan to pull?

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sammielu

Be sure to discuss this stuff with your instructors, your profile indicates you are a student.

If a student came to me with a question about the safety of jumping with any injury it would fall into the "if you have to ask, the answer is no" category. Especially the neck!!!

To be safe, we plan for the worst. What happens if you get kicked in the face and your neck tweaks in free fall? If your body goes numb, like in your example, how do you plan to pull?



Understood and, while I know my initial post was long winded (I write for a living), I did say that I was planning on doing so, but I'm certainly not relying on them to give me medical advice as to whether it is safe for me to jump (nor is that my question in this Post).

Assuming my surgeon gives me medical clearance to continue jumping (i,e., reasonable assurance that jumping won't be Suicide at Altitude), I want to be sure that I'm educating myself on what can or could be done to minimize what I assume is a greater than normal personal risk of injury from a hard opening. Thats all.

My instructors are well aware of my surgery and, more importantly, my surgeon is aware that I want to return to jumping. I'm not "hiding the ball" on anyone and will carefully consider their advice and counsel.

But, at the end of the day, its a pure risk-reward analysis that I assume every skydiver makes (consciously or unconsciously) before jumping (I know I did even before my incident).

For me, the analysis goes something like this:

In total and on this specific day, do the consequence-weighted answers to the following questions mitigate for or against experiencing the joy that comes from letting go of the strut and arching into the Hill?

"Is it too windy/cold/cloudy?"
"Am I sore/tied/sick?"
"Does it "feel right" to be jumping today?"
"What happens if I hit the step on exit"
"What happens if I can't find the DZ?"
"If I have a malfunction do I trust my training?"
"Do I trust the pilot to get to to altitude?"
"Do I trust my instructor?"
"Do I trust my equipment?"
"Do I trust myself?"
"Could jumping today possibly harm others in the air with me?"

My List could go on and on and on and I'm pretty certain everyone's List is different. I'm also certain that everyone, whether they know it or not, engages in this process when making any personal decision; Skydivers aren't particularly unique in this.

From this point forward, I'll simply always have another consequence-weighted question and answer to factor into the analysis.

Hence my discussions with my instructors, my surgeon and this Post. I obviously know the additional question; I'm just trying to make sure I have a reasonably correct answer to factor into my personal analysis. :)
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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I'm glad you're thinking it through.

Add to your list of questions: What if I get kicked in the head in free fall?

Its more common than you might think. Its happened to me on break off and I've dodged plenty of people coming at me fast, because I had the awareness to anticipate it, the skill to dodge it, and the luck for that to work.

Can you take a kick in the head at 120+ mph and be ok to pull?

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Can you take a kick in the head at 120+ mph and be ok to pull?



Don't know... Before my incident, probably. Now...? I suppose I'll have to get my surgeon's opinion and factor it into the analysis (just like everything else).

Right now and for the foreseeable future I'm obviously not envisioning jumping with others in formations or, for that matter, even in close proximity to other Skydivers (other than my instructors). While I know that anything is possible in the sky (Shit Happens), I'll re-evaluate if/when I consider doing so.

I note that given my Student Status, I would probably be dangerous to non-Instructor rated skydivers in close proximity even if I had the neck of an 18 year old. Just saying.

Trust me: I'm thinking it through. I'm crazy but I'm not suicidal.
"I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived." Willa Cather

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I know quite a few people, friends even, with neck injuries like yours, who decided to hang it up and move on, as the risk was too much for comfort. It's totally your decision. If you have a wife, kids, family, etc... they should factor into what you think is best.

Heck, I know a few WWE entertainers who had to retire way too early due to neck injuries sustained in the ring because the doctors told them, one more injury to their neck could be really bad.
"Mediocre people don't like high achievers, and high achievers don't like mediocre people." - SIX TIME National Champion coach Nick Saban

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any canopy can open hard and that includes Specter with Dacron lineset, ask Joe Jennings, Norman Kent. They primarily jump Specter with Dacron lineset but they will tell you that every once a while it will open hard.

Not only main canopies, but the reserve may open hard time to time. In fact they are designed so that they open quicker than the normal main. I've only had 5 reserve ride and all of them were non-terminal deployment. Meaning I wasn't cooking at 120 mph+. They all opened brisk. I wonder how the reserve opening feels like when you have PC in tow or some sort of high speed malfunction.

Head can travel either direction, towards your chest or towards your back, that depends on how your head was aligned at the time of hard opening. General rule is that you keep your neck straight as possible during opening until the canopy fully opens. Your natural tendency at first is to look up at the canopy. That stops until one day the opening snaps your head backwards.

Real hard opening doesn't really give you time to prep for the opening. It just hits you, like getting slammed by a car. If you can prepare for it's hard opening and have time to do shit(like tuck your chin, flex your neck muscle, straighten out, ect) you are not really having a hard opening are you?
Bernie Sanders for President 2016

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I'd talk to your doc about getting a physical therapy consult once you are done and they can help you get your strength back in your neck and they might be able to give you some exercises to do for neck strengthening based upon your injury.

I found these suggested by a flight surgeon in the USAF,

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.f-16.net%2Fforum%2Fdownload%2Ffile.php%3Fid%3D17656&ei=OGPUVJ-6N4fYoATTqYHQBw&usg=AFQjCNErXl3anN_aggj29qafbzRrJWDLpg

I don't know how many G's are pulled in a hard opening but any strengtheing would help...."The bottom line is that your job requires a highly stable neck. Stretching
and exercise provide optimum physiologic performance. Weak neck muscles cause neck fatigue, stiffness and pain, and higher risk of injury. Strong neck muscles mean less frequent and less critical neck injuries."

I thought I had read somewhere out there that the neck is at its strongest and most protected in the neutral position but I can't find it now.

Anyways good luck and thanks for the discussion.

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gunsmokex

I don't know how many G's are pulled in a hard opening but any strengthening would help



Here is a short article we wrote, which was referenced in a recent Parachutist article: http://www.pcprg.com/g-forces.htm (A link to this article is on the Skydivers page: http://www.pcprg.com/skydive.htm)

Quote

I thought I had read somewhere out there that the neck is at its strongest and most protected in the neutral position but I can't find it now.



My chiropractor confirmed this while we were discussing hard openings.

.

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That USAF article is great!
Few skydivers west neck braces because they limit visibility. Only a few free fall photographers wear neck braces and only when they jump their heaviest helmets.
What you really need to do is stretch and strengthen all your neck muscles.
Start with the USAF exercises (after approval by your physiotherapist) and eventually work up to wrestlers' neck bridges.

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Wow! That's some great research peek, thanks!! Can't wait to read it actually. The science behind skydiving interests me a lot, I feel like the more I know the more safe I am and any edge I can use I'll take it.

Yeah I don't recall exactly why a 'neutral' neck is stronger but I suppose if one has their neck already tensed all the way forward or back and you go and apply say 12Gs to it I could see where tendons and ligaments would tear, maybe that's the reasoning. If I ever find the article I'll post it, I believe it was some aeronautic article though. I really wish I could find it now though cause I don't want someone thinking that their chin tucked to the chest or all the way back is safer and then have their damn neck snap or something like that.

To the OP please check with your doc as I'm sure that they actually did do a body of research on this to find the MOST stable and strongest neck position and from what I gather that is the neutral position. Neutral not being relaxed but able to have give one way or the other. I don't think anyones neck is truly 'relaxed' in a skydive anyway. But just check with you chiropractor, PT or surgeon and I'm sure they will confirm this. When you neck is all the way forward or back it is very vulnerable.

I'm definitely going to start on the neck strengthening exercises though Rob and am gonna try yoga lol.

peek

*** I don't know how many G's are pulled in a hard opening but any strengthening would help



Here is a short article we wrote, which was referenced in a recent Parachutist article: http://www.pcprg.com/g-forces.htm (A link to this article is on the Skydivers page: http://www.pcprg.com/skydive.htm)

Quote

I thought I had read somewhere out there that the neck is at its strongest and most protected in the neutral position but I can't find it now.



My chiropractor confirmed this while we were discussing hard openings.

.

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It always baffles me when a bright, rational jumper argues that holding your head in any position other than neutral will increase the chances of NOT causing an injury :S.

Our cervical vertebrae are best able to withstand axial loading while in the neutral position. Simply looking at the architecture should make this apparent. Tilt the head in any direction, & you'll increase pressure on one side of the disks, decreasing it on the others.

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