The elite athletes representing their countries at the Sochi Olympics are in peak physical shape and are at the top of their sport. However, accidents and injuries still occur, especially in potentially dangerous conditions and courses.
On February 15, we saw an unfortunate example of this when Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova fractured her 12th dorsal vertebra and dislocated her spine during a practice session. Fractures or breaks of vertebrae in the lower back can be very dangerous and possibly lead to paralysis, if improperly handled. Spinal fractures often require a swift course of action from highly trained doctors. Komissarova was carefully moved to a stretcher to be transported off of the mountain to the nearest hospital. In these cases, it’s imperative to immobilize the patient until a doctor can diagnose the problem.
Komissarova was rushed to the hospital and underwent a six and a half hour surgery to repair her spine. A team of Russian specialists inserted a metal implant in her spine to stabilize it and hold the bones in place. A metal rod insert is a common surgical option when approaching spinal fractures. Depending on the severity of the fracture and location, sometimes it is necessary to remove vertebrae that put too much pressure on the spine, replacing it with biomechanical devices such as a vertebral cage. This is usually accompanied by spinal fusion surgery, which aids in alignment and stability.
Following her surgery, Komissarova was transferred to a specialized German hospital where she underwent a second surgery for more repair. Although her condition is stable, the Russian skier will require intensive physical therapy to recover. The recovery process from any major spine injury, like fractures, can be a process that can last months, even years if there is partial paralysis. Physical therapy is often required, especially if there is any residual weakness in the arms or legs.
The skier wasn’t the only athlete injured on the icy mountains of Sochi. Several athletes have been injured on the course, including a Russian ski jumper who broke his ribs in a training accident. However, injuries like these aren’t isolated to Sochi. In fact, during the same event in 2010, Canadian skicross racer Nik Zoricic suffered fatal head injuries in a crash near the final jump of a heat in the men’s race.
Maria Komissarova’s injury could have been life-threatening. But with a great team of doctors and a strong, swift course of action, the skier may be able to make a full recovery. I wish her the very best at this difficult time, and look forward to following her story as it progresses.