Football season is still young, and already all eyes are on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The star player sustained his third back injury in 18 months during an October 27 game against the Washington Redskins, causing him to have to sit out the November 2 game versus the Arizona Cardinals.
Romo is no stranger to pain or back injuries. Last April he underwent surgery to remove a cyst on his back. Just eight months later, he suffered a herniated disc and underwent a second surgery. This most recent injury is what’s called a transverse process fracture—two of them, to be exact. Romo is known for playing through a tremendous amount of pain—he famously led his team to a win in a 2011 game with a cracked rib and punctured lung—but Brandon Weedon took his place in the November 2 game.
The transverse process is a small wing-shaped bone that sticks out on either side of the vertebrae. Fractures are often caused by an intense, concentrated impact, and the blow that took Romo out of the game was certainly powerful: he quarterback was hit by a knee in his lumbar spine, the same area where he’d had surgery.
Of course, anyone – even those of us who aren’t professional athletes – can fall victim to the same injury. Transverse process fractures can happen from bad falls or vehicle accidents, for example.
Even a small transverse process fracture can be incredibly painful, causing severe inflammation in the surrounding tissue and back spasms. The swelling and spasms can limit mobility, though this injury usually doesn’t require surgery. Those who experience a transverse process fracture can generally stick to rest and medication for the pain before starting physical therapy. Recovery time is typically just three weeks, but for a seasoned athlete like Romo, less time may be needed.
NFL insiders predict that Romo will likely continue to play this season, getting back on the field as soon as his next game. He was reported to be in good spirits on the sidelines during following his injury, but whether Romo’s positive attitude and incredible tolerance for pain will be enough to keep him in the game for the rest of the season remains to be seen.
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