'It certainly raises the question of was there more going than was recognized or treated?' Sports physician weighs in on Tua Tagovailoa's injury

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — It’s no surprise the sport of football is a dangerous one, and serious injuries occur more often than we’d like.

What we saw last night on Thursday Night Football between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins was a reminder of just how dangerous it can be, especially when it comes to injuries surrounding the head, neck, and spine.

I was more concerned about his cervical spine than anything else because both, the way he reacted neurologically on the field, but also watching the way his head snapped back.

head physician for Syracuse Football team Dr. James Tucker

Dr. James Tucker is the head physician for the Syracuse Football team so he has seen plenty of similar injuries throughout his time working in football. However, when the cameras showed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s fingers curled and his arms straight up, he realized it might be a head injury as well.

“The posturing he went through on the field where his arms kind of went up and his hands were clenching implies some sort of brain trauma,” he said. “Not necessarily a serious one, but that the brain is someway stunned and that’s called fencing response.”

“There was certainly no doubt that he had had brain trauma,” he added. “But in many cases, people who get brain trauma also get cervical spine injuries. And anybody who has significant brain trauma is assumed to have a cervical spine injury until you can do imaging and make certain that they don’t.”

As of Friday, September 30, Tagovailoa is reported to have been released from the hospital and was allowed to fly back to Miami with the rest of his team. Initial imaging at the hospital showed no broken bones, however, he is in concussion protocol.

“It certainly raises the question of was there more going on eight days ago than was recognized or treated?” Dr. Tucker asked.

He is referring to Sunday afternoon’s game against the Buffalo Bills where Tagovailoa took a hit towards the end of the second quarter and appeared wobbly on his feet. He would leave the game, but return to start the second half.

Dr. Tucker says we are not sure what exactly happened when he was examined. It is possible he could have sustained a head injury on Sunday which makes the injury Thursday even worse.

“We know that if somebody is concussed and they go back too soon, they’re more likely to be re-concussed or to extend the concussion or to have worse neurologic symptoms with less impact.”

Regardless of what the exact injury is, it brings up the larger question which is, how well are we paying attention to player safety?

“As much as we’ve learned, as much attention as we’ve given the concussions in the past decade and a half, there’s still more out there than we know,” Dr. Tucker said. “There’s still some controversy about the way the majority of us very conservatively approached them.”