Risks of Spinal Injury During Cricket


Jessica Bowles is a solicitor in the Spinal Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. 

Cricket is a relatively safe sport, with a low injury rate for professional sport. Recently there have been a number of high profile bowlers whose careers have been impacted by spinal stress fractures.

James Anderson, England’s most successful Test Match bowler famously had a double stress fracture. More recently, Jamie Porter and James Pattison have both been diagnosed with spinal stress fractures, ruling them out of upcoming international tours.

Fast bowlers are highly vulnerable to injuries, with bowlers accounting for 40–45% of all injuries suffered by cricketers.  

Fast bowling in cricket requires a combination of excessive flexion, rotation and hyper-extension of the spine on delivery.  On release of the ball, research shows a force of eight to ten times bodyweight is transmitted through the body.  This, combined with the range of movement puts the lower spine at a high risk of a lumbar stress fracture. This is compounded when the action is repeated continually throughout long games.    

Are more professional cricketers developing spinal fractures? 

Nowadays, as International Cricket is played across three different formats annually, the increased workload could account for higher incidents. Alternatively, the repeated bowling action itself could be damaging. 

Bowling and strengthening techniques together with the laws of the game should be proactively re-visited to ensure unnecessary injuries are avoided. One option is to regularly MRI bowlers’ spines to identify and monitor early symptoms.

What else can be done?

Some evidence suggests injuries may be developing in adolescent players as their bones and  spine do not fully mature until adulthood. 

Consultant Spinal Surgeon, Mr Damian Fahy, states 

“Teenage fast bowlers are particularly prone to lumbar stress fractures, with perhaps the highest incidence of lumbar stress fractures of any athlete, greater than 40%...A study of young bowlers between 13 and 18 years of age found that at 13 to 14 years, 21% showed evidence of an abnormal disc. This rose to 58% at 15.5 years and to 65% at 17.9 years.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) advised children should not bowl for more than 2 consecutive days, or more than 4 times in any 7 day period. This attempt to protect children from serious injuries is commended.

Time will tell whether the diligence of the ECB will result in fewer future instances of stress fractures.  However, the question remains as to whether enough is being done for current professional cricketers?