Home » Blog » Gretchen Rose » Back in Action, If Not In The Game: A Halftime Report On A Teenager's Recovery From A Stress Fracture Of His Spine

Back in Action, If Not In The Game: A Halftime Report On A Teenager's Recovery From A Stress Fracture Of His Spine

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First, a thank you

In my last blog I wrote about my son's back injury and the start of physical therapy, but before I report on his progress, I want to extend a special thank you to everyone who contacted me after reading my blog post. My intuition told me that the fractured spine he suffered is an injury that has affected many other youth athletes and families. I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people who called, emailed, IM'd, commented on the blog site, or ran me down (figuratively, at least) in the grocery store to ask about my son. Thank you all so much.

In the past 6 weeks, I have listened and read your stories. I helped a friend determine it was time to take her son for an MRI for his back. As it turned out, he is in the "club", too. One dear friend's son was in PT alongside mine.  When she saw him progressing more quickly than her's, she asked his doctor to reconsider his diagnosis.  When he did, the doctor saw something new that changed the entire course of treatment! The take-away message: never ever underestimate the power of "Mom-dar." It is a supernatural power that moms possess which beats modern medicine about 95% of the time! So, keep your emails coming, so I can share your experiences in a future blog as continued down the road to recovery!

How we got here

Before I talk about the past six weeks of Physical Therapy, let's take a moment to re-cap.

We got to this point with my 13 year old son being diagnosed with a stress fractures in his L-3 lumbar vertebrae. He was completely shut down from all physical activity for 8 weeks to let the fracture begin to heal.  He treated the go-ahead to begin physical therapy as if he had just won the conference and earned a shot at the championship.

I am going to treat this as if it were half time at the Super Bowl, so without further ado, here are the first half highlights:

Kick off

Physical Therapy is great and happy place. My son, husband and I have been treated like royalty! I know that our team has helped re-hab many top professional athletes, but they treat my son with the same enthusiasm, care, and concern, exhorting to push for "just one more." The doctor diagnose, and the Physical Therapists teach, train, and ultimately heal the injury.  I learn something new every time that I am in the Clinic a/k/a "the Gym." Physical therapy after stress fracture of the back

Completed pass

We started out with small core building exercises. I believe my son was a bit disappointed that we were doing seemingly easy exercises. He quickly learned that building strength in your abdominals and back is not easy, and you have start with small incremental exercises. To be honest, these are exercises we ALL should do! It does not matter if you are a young teen athlete or a mom of undetermined age! I found that our nightly routine of small and easy, simple core exercises were easing the pain in my runner's right hip, too!

First and Ten

We eventually moved from going to PT once a week to going two times a week. Progress was being made and ground was being gained (appropriate, since my son, before his injury, was a running back)  Orders were given for light aerobic exercise. Seeing my son "shut down" for 8 weeks of doing nothing was tough. Seeing him struggle to make it through 15 minutes on the exercise bike was just as difficult. Thank goodness my husband is a gym rat.

PT is a team effort, and is becoming a full time job, too!  As his strength and stamina returned, so, too, did his appetite. In the fall, I struggled to keep him from going hungry during football and basketball season. Since the shut down, he had not been interested in all the extra meals and snacks he usually consumed (a/k/a "pre- dinner," "re-breakfast" and "bedtime snack").  I am now ramped back up to make sure he gets the eight square meals a day he needs to be at his best.  In fact, he has added a new meal: the pre-Physical Therapy burrito, a giant steak burrito which must be consumed 30 minutes prior to PT to give him the energy for the workout. And, yes, he has a snack in the car going home from PT, too! Okay, I say, 15 minutes of "Planking" is hard. I get it.


When we went to the orthopedic surgeon for another check up, he seemed optimistic, and said he only wanted to schedule another check up in a month. As the doctor was walking out the door, I casually mentioned that I had about seven questions to ask him. I saved the most important for last, the answer to which I had wanted to know since March 1st:  "How will we know when the back is healed? Will there be an MRI to show that the fracture is mended?" Good question, right? The doctor looked at me as if I had asked for the formula of the Fountain of Youth. He explained that the back never completely heals. No MRI to check that out. You just become "asymptomatic." Oh. I see. I said to myself. I was a bit shaken as I left the room. Glad I saved that one for my grand finale!

Goal-line stand

We are busy! Getting my son to Physical Therapy twice a week for over an hour and a half, aerobic exercise and continually working on "core strength" exercises at night is all that I thought it would be. The routine would be similar to playing summer baseball or a 7 v 7-tournament team. You are in it to win.

Like all sports seasons, there was the mid-season slump. I cannot stress how hard it is to motivate a 13-year-old to do crunches at night with his mom. There have been some words between athlete and management. With the start of summer, it is nice to see my kid head off to go fish and hang out with friends. I know he is doing things like running, and riding his bike, and general boy stuff that have not been approved by the back doctor and PT team. As hard as I try, I cannot bubble wrap the guy. I just pray he does not face a setback due to his advanced schedule.

Penalty flag! 10 yard penalty; repeat the down

With my new obsession on core strength and exercises, I try every chance I get to show and tell my son that he will be doing this every day forever! Core strength exercises could be the only thing keeping him asymptomatic and staying in his sports of choice. While watching a World Cup tune up match, I saw Christiano Ronaldo score, celebrating his accomplishment by taking off his shirt.  I must say, CR7 does put the word "beautiful" in the beautiful game, but that is beside the point, which was, as I explained to my son, pointing to his 12-pack abs (not the typical 6), that this is what he was shooting for over the summer. He now had a goal, and, just as a reminder (okay, not just), I put a picture on the refrigerator of our new "poster boy." Christiano Ronaldo without his shirt

Of course, I need lots of reminders, too, what with the 8 meals and snacks a day I have to provide. I have taken some grief from my family for my cougar-like obsession. I explained that it was purely clinical. I bet Christiano did not have back problems, and I doubted that his mom ever had to spend 14 hours a week taking him to and from rehab, at which point my son informs me that Mr. Ronaldo is the third highest paid athlete in the world and his mom is not driving him anywhere. I told him that, if Christian was hurt, she would probably go and check on him, too, to make sure the abs were still in good shape!

Last play of the first half

I hope we are at the mid point of our PT journey. It seems like my son is getting stronger every week. He is certainly not doing what he was doing this time last year, but his world is expanding every day. He is well enough to leave my tender trap and have a fun week working on an exotic game ranch. He went to a football camp and walked through plays. He has good days, bad days and great days with his Physical Therapy and routine at home. My husband and I both commented that we see his confidence and a bit of swagger return with the increased amount of activity. Are we ahead at the half time of this important game? I am not sure, but we certainly are not losing the game. As with any epic game, I am sure it will be determined in the 4th Quarter. We have the core strength now to pull us through to victory.