I was catching up on my reading recently and came upon an article of particular interest to me since my son John is a lacrosse player at the University of Iowa.
Drs. Kelley and French from the SUNY Department of Otolaryngology in Syracuse N.Y. described three cases of fracture of the larynx which occurred when a player was struck with the ball.
Although lacrosse is an increasingly popular sport, to the point where my cousin’s son in Poland plays on a team there, some explanation to the uninitiated might be helpful. The lacrosse ball is made of hard rubber and it is propelled by a basket at the end of a stick at speeds up to ninety miles per hour. I have dents on my car to attest to this. The players wear a helmet with a face mask, protective gloves, and shoulder pads but for the most part their body is unprotected. The pace of the game is fast and they are very skilled at passing, catching, and shooting on the run, but just the same they still receive contact in unprotected areas.
The larynx has a framework composed of cartilage and fractures of it are usually associated with major trauma from motor vehicle accidents and assaults, not athletic injuries. They are characterized by the sudden onset of painful swallowing, change in the voice, bruising, and expectoration of blood from the throat. In the most severe cases difficulty breathing may occur. Immediate recognition of such an injury by players, coaches, and trainers is imperative. Prompt medical attention and consultation by an Otolaryngologist-Head & Neck surgeon is required. CT scanning of the neck, fiberoptic examination of the larynx, and evaluation under anesthesia may be required. Treatment ranges from careful observation to open surgical repair depending upon the severity of the injury.
These types of injuries are infrequent and are not unique to lacrosse. I myself have treated baseball and basketball players with similar injuries. In any sport it is important to recognize that there is a potential for untoward events, and to know how to recognize and address them.
Reference: Laryngeal Fractures in Lacrosse Due to High Speed Ball Impact; Christopher French, MD; Richard Kelley, MD; JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Volume 139, Number 7, pages 735-738, July 2013.