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Dr. David Chao: WWE Wrestler ‘Big E’ Breaks Neck, But He’s Quite Lucky

In Friday’s WWE Smackdown, recent champion “Big E” suffered a cervical fracture and was lucky to avoid tragedy. The wrestling matches may be scripted but the injuries are real. The incident was shown live on national TV but the medical attention he received was not since it was unplanned. The broadcast focused on the continuation of the tag team match instead.

Ettore Ewen was involved in a belly-to-belly overhead suplex with Ridge Holland and landed directly on the crown of his head. This type of axial load injury to his cervical spine is the most worrisome for paralysis (or even death).

Ewan’s neck was immobilized and he was taken away on a stretcher while action in the tag team match continued.

Later Big E tweeted from his hospital bed that he had a broken neck as he remained in a hard cervical collar.

Axial load injuries are dangerous and it seems Ewan escaped disaster. He was able to move all extremities and reportedly has strength. He later indicated he suffered two different fractures in the neck at C1 and C6.

The C1 fracture is most dangerous as the top cervical vertebrae is a ring and is commonly associated with immediate death or complete paralysis. Thankfully the fracture was not displaced and he will not need surgery. However, this type of fracture often heals incompletely and it may mean the end of his wrestling career.

The C6 fracture is likely a compression injury to the vertebral body. This likely requires immobilization but not surgery. One would anticipate a minimum of three-month recovery with return to full function and activities for this lower cervical injury.

Previously, I had worked regularly with WWE as a consulting physician for events and performing surgery. I can assure you the stunts that are executed are real and come with risk, even though some consider the sport to be “fake.”

There is no question the WWE action is scripted. It has to be, to pull off these complex and dangerous moves. In fact, the incident likely resulted from a lack of timing between the two wrestlers. The bottom line is this injury is very real and Big E seems to be quite lucky considering the circumstances.

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.