Spine Medicine Success Story: A Determined Gymnast Defies the Odds


The situation:

An elite high-school gymnast, my 15-year-old patient was set to attend an NCAA Division I college on scholarship until she injured her back. The diagnosis was a lumbar disc herniation at L4-5 and a grade I isthmic spondylolisthesis at L5-S1 (acute fractures of the pars area causing L5 to slip forward on the S1 vertebra). After being told by multiple sports medicine specialists that her career was over, she was referred to Geraci Spine and Sports Medicine.

Our solution:

Once a month for four months, the patient and her father drove up from Erie, PA to see me and my head physical therapist. I gave her an exercise treatment plan at each appointment, which her father video recorded for follow-up physical therapy (PT) appointments back home. I also placed her in a brace to limit motion for about eight weeks to allow the pars fractures to heal.

The outcome:

The patient missed her junior year and therefore lost her potential scholarships. However, after competing her senior year, she tried out and became a walk-on (non-scholarship) member of the gymnastics team at the college her choice, Penn State University. In her team profile, she told the story of her injury and thinking that she would never compete again until a spine specialist in Buffalo, NY got her back to the sport she loved.

The patient went on to have a very successful career at Penn State, including being the team captain her last two years. She also never missed additional time from gymnastics due to back problems. After college, she was inspired to enter the field of medicine as a physician assistant in her hometown of Erie. PA.