Football Player Tackles Spondylolysis

Sports medicine patient Ben Coates.

August 26, 2019

Like many athletes, Ben Coates knew he loved football from the time he was very young.

"I started playing flag football in kindergarten. By 2nd grade, I was playing tackle football. I knew very early on that I wanted to play in college," he says.

He didn't know, however, that an injury would almost keep him from achieving his dream. It was during the first football practice of his senior year at Blue Valley West High School that Ben was hit by another player, causing his back to extend and crack. He felt a surge of pain, similar to the pain he'd been feeling over the summer. He knew something wasn't right, but he pushed through the discomfort. He was able to play in the first 3 games of the season, but the pain persisted.

Unable to fight it anymore, he went to the emergency room at The University of Kansas Health System. Shortly after, he met with sports medicine specialist Jean-Philippe Darche, MD, to assess his pain and receive a diagnosis.

"I had an X-ray and an MRI, which confirmed that it was spondylolysis," Ben says.

Spondylolysis is a stress fracture in the vertebrae and lower back. It's often caused by repetitive stress and is very common in young athletes. Dr. Darche commonly sees this sports injury in football players, cheerleaders and gymnasts.

"Spondylolysis is very common but is often missed or misdiagnosed by physicians. It's different than adult back pain, which is why it's very important that teenage athletes are treated by a sports medicine physician," Dr. Darche says.

For Ben, this diagnosis meant he could not finish the football season. Instead, he began wearing a brace to prevent his back from moving. He also met with Kyle Veazey, PT, DPT, for physical therapy at the health system's Sports Medicine and Performance Center. They worked together twice a week for 6 weeks, focusing on core strength and overall flexibility.

"Physical therapy was very difficult at first because I couldn't do all of the exercises," Ben says. "Luckily, Kyle was very supportive and understood what I was going through because he had also suffered a stress fracture while playing baseball. Because of that, he had a good understanding of how to help me."

With the help of Kyle and Dr. Darche, Ben made a full recovery and bounced back just in time for basketball season. He believes his injury made him an even stronger athlete, both physically and mentally.

"When I was injured, I wasn't sure if I would be able to play college football. Dr. Darche believed I could overcome the injury, and I did. This experience helped me to know what I really want to do in the future. It also taught me how important it is to listen to your body and not to push through the pain because it will take longer to recover," he says.

Thanks to the expert care he received at The University of Kansas Health System, Ben will be playing football for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He plans to major in exercise science and business, and he hopes to coach football or open a training facility one day so he can help other athletes just like him.

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