Examining the Nature, Severity of Dwayne Bowe's Neck Injury

Dave Siebert, M.D.@DaveMSiebertFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 12:  Dwayne Bowe #82 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks for running room after a third quarter catch while playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 12, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 16-13 in overtime.(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Chiefs just can't catch a break.

Neither can Dwayne Bowe's fantasy owners.

Six days after nearly upsetting the Steelers in Week 10, Kansas City was annihilated at home by the Bengals in Week 11 (via ESPN.com).

The struggles are clearly related to an anemic offense, an offense that may have taken another hit when one of the few weapons it has went down with an injury.

According to the Associated Press, Bowe, widely regarded as at least an above-average wide receiver, suffered an injury to his neck after landing hard on his head following a leaping pass-catch attempt.

News of a neck injury certainly makes anyone take pause, as although many are mere nuisances, they can also be life-threatening.

The sad story of Eric LeGrand, former defensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, comes to mind.

Fortunately, one can speculate that Bowe's specific injury is on the less serious side.

Though he did not return to play, the fact that he physically stayed at the game following the injury suggests that his injury, while severe enough to hold him from the field, was not of immediate concern.

That said, news regarding the exact nature of his injury is scarce.

However, it is likely similar to that of whiplash.

When Bowe landed on his head, he likely suffered one or both of two types of injuries.  The two injuries are a cervical strain and a cervical sprain.

A cervical strain is an over-stretch (a grade 1 strain), partial tear (grade 2) or complete tear (grade 3) of one of the many muscles in the neck.

A cervical sprain is a similar type of injury to one of the ligaments in the neck.

Muscles are used to move the neck and head, and ligaments are bands of tissue that stabilize and coordinate that motion.

Strains and sprains occur when an outside force, such as the ground when Bowe landed on his head, makes the muscles or ligaments stretch abnormally.

Most commonly, strains and sprains result in neck pain around the injured tissue that is worsened with motion.  Pain can also be present at rest.

Pain with movement makes life incredibly difficult as a receiver in the NFL.  Tracking the football, evading would-be tacklers and changing directions is essentially impossible with a painful neck injury.

In some cases, the spinal cord and nerves can be injured, along with the muscles or ligaments.

This type of injury would produce numbness, weakness or paralysis at various parts of the body, as the spinal cord is the highway through which all of the electrical signals controlling sensation and motion travel.

Bowe almost certainly did not suffer such damage.

There is also no news stating that Bowe suffered the dreaded concussion, an injury that often accompanies whiplash-like injuries to the neck due to the acceleration-deceleration that serves to shake the brain within the skull.

Though it appears Bowe avoided any of the serious complications of his fall, it is safe to say that following his injury, Bowe likely has limited range of motion of his neck due to pain.

In addition, if it turns out to be a muscle injury, he will have weakness when moving his head, whereas a ligament injury can produce neck instability.

Not something to mess around with.

If he has not already, Bowe will likely have X-rays of his neck to ensure there are no vertebral body fractures, or fractures to the bones that make up the spine at the level of the neck.

He also may receive an MRI of his neck, as MRIs allow physicians to see the muscle and soft tissue detail that X-rays do not.

In addition, an MRI would clarify the extent of the injury and its severity.

As long as there are no complete muscle or ligament tears, Bowe will heal on his own with rest and icing.

He will also likely undergo physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in the neck that were weakened by the injury.

All of this will take time.

How much time?

That question can only be answered by the Chiefs medical staff after further evaluation.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to fully rest the neck, so setbacks can occur quite easily.

Given how the Chiefs' season is going, there is absolutely no reason to rush Bowe back onto the field and risk further damage.

For fantasy owners, this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back after an already frustrating season.

Depending on further reports about his injury, it is very likely that Bowe becomes one of the most-dropped players in fantasy football.

From the Chiefs' point of view, putting Bowe's health in jeopardy too early would endanger one of the only hopes for the future of Kansas City's offense.

After all, the Chiefs need to start thinking ahead to the 2013 season, and Bowe has already mentioned that he wants to finish his career as a Chief.

Rushing Bowe back would be foolish.

It would also likely result in more of this from fans.



Though after enduring a season like this, can anyone really blame them?


The author of this article is a soon-to-be Family Medicine resident physician with plans to specialize in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.  The above injury information is based on the author's own anatomical and clinical knowledge and experience, and more details can be found on Medscape's article on cervical strains and sprains here.  Additional input is welcomed and encouraged.


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