Devastated That She is Quitting Because of Back Injury

Back Injury CT Scan

Back pain

Subject: Devastated that she is quitting

Sex: female
Age: 13
Gymnastics Level: 8 going to 9

Hi!
I’m devastated that our daughter is giving up (although we were the ones who made the decision for her). She had a stress reaction in her lower left lumbar a year ago, and after a season of not competing, she came back this year, didn’t do as well as she always had in the past, because she had off so much time and had only been conditioning. Her coach seemed to ignore her most of the year, or just yelled at her, and the back started hurting again, and we just had to yell “uncle”. I am having a tougher time with the separation from gym than she is, because she just seems relieved. She really did not like her coach. I hate to see her give it up, but I feel strongly the coaches didn’t do anything to support her through the injury, nor have they even called to see where we are since leaving the gym 5 days ago. Thank you.

OK, so I didn’t really see any question in your communication there, so I get to make up my own questions and comments.

Quit With the Labeling

“Quitting” “Giving up” “Give it up” – All of those judgments on your daughter in a single paragraph and it wasn’t even her choice? None of this sounds like a decision and choice your daughter made, so it would be unfair to put the burden of this on her and saddle her with it for the rest of her life. You need to take a deep breath, find out where she is physically and mentally and decide together what to do from here. Also, you did not mention if the doctor told you she needed to quit the sport, which would be the main decision maker here.

I Am Not a Doctor, Nor Do I Play One on TV (or in the gym)

But the return of pain after her diagnosis and rehab could very well mean that some part of the rest and rehab did not go as well or as long it should, the injury has returned or there was a further complication. The potential rest, recovery and rehab for her condition possibly should have included up to 6 weeks of complete rest, and then a professionally supervised rehab period of perhaps 3 months. Professional physical therapy should have likely involved involved a dynamic lumbar stabilization protocol, core and abdominal strengthening, and both hamstring and hip flexor stretching. Most doctors consider it important to have follow-up lumbar x-rays, say at 6 weeks and 3 months into the rehab phase of recovery, to see that healing has definitely occurred.

Back Injury CT Scan

6 week and 3 month CT Scan back injury recovery

Your Daughter’s Back Injury Should be Reevaluated – GO BACK TO A DOCTOR

Whether or not your daughter returns to gymnastics, she should evaluated again for her back pain. If she ever wants to return to gymnastics, or any other sport, and wants to remain physically active during the rest of her life, it could be important to make sure her back problem is completely healed. Finding the cause of back pain, in cases like this, or determining there is no longer a problem, is not always simple and straightforward. Doctors may have to use a variety of evaluation tools, including physical evaluation, neuromuscular testing, anterior/posterior, lateral, oblique views and L5-S1 spot view lumbosacral radiographs, MRI and SPECT image bone scan. Just from that list alone, you can see that diagnosis and confirmation of healing can be very involved.

Lumbar Spondylolysis

Lumbar spondylolysis is a common cause of low back pain in adolescent gymnasts. Spondylolysis is a defect of the pars interarticularis of the spine with an injury that may range from a stress reaction to a stress fracture to a true fracture. Untreated cases or coming back to sports too soon can compound into other spinal problems. There are numerous other complications that could occur, especially if the original problem did not heal completely. Repeat – get your daughter back to the doctor and get a professional evaluation, get her diagnosed and completely healed. Patients are rarely asked to completely discontinue their sport, only to heal before returning. You should have gotten, and again need to get, your doctor’s input on whether your daughter needs to quit the sport.

Now to the Gymnastics Problems

It appears that your daughter has some “coaching” problems (she doesn’t like her coaches) and the gym has some management problems (they didn’t notice she is missing for 5 days). I wish I could say these are not common problems in the sport, but that would be untrue. Gymnastics coaches often do not supervise injured and rehabbing gymnasts very closely (it is difficult to split attention between competing gymnasts and not as immediately rewarding as working with gymnasts in peak physical shape). It is just so much less complicated for coaches to concentrate on gymnasts who are healed, than to split their attention. It’s not right, but there it is. Gymnastics gyms are notoriously poorly managed, even to the point of ignoring their best and highest paying current customers – team members. You would think that gyms would keep in contact with good team members and customers, but again, it often does not happen that way. Sad, but true.

Does Your Daughter Still Want to Do Gymnastics?

Being “relieved” to be away from coaches she doesn’t like, tells you nothing about whether she still wants to be a gymnast or will want to again after a period of time. You did not mention whether you had other gym options or have to deal with the gym and coaches she currently attends. As a 13 year old Level 9, your daughter’s progress in the sport is a positive. But only she can say whether she still has enough love and drive to want to continue in the sport. If your daughter decides to continue, you will need to get her, or insist on, better coaching. This is an important decision that should not just be left to circumstance.

No One Cares How You Feel

While that sounds harsh, this is really not about you at all. It is about your daughter and her thoughts, feelings, future dreams and desires. If you did not take those emotions into consideration, if you did not talk to your daughter about her emotions the first time you (or the doctor) decided she had to quit, then you certainly had better do so this time, if you want her or she wants to go back to gymnastics. You must put aside any and all of your own feelings and emotions and concentrate on what your daughter wants and what is best for her. Her initial reaction of being relieved to stop gymnastics very likely will change, and she may come to regret no longer being in the sport.

Time and Patience

Rehab from injury, especially from back injuries requires patience, that often teenage gymnasts (and their coaches) don’t seem to have. It seems that your daughter may have some time to think, if she has to rehab her back pain injury again, to get a better perspective on what she wants to do about her gymnastics. You need to get her expert diagnosis from her doctor and rehab help from a professional physical therapist and confirmation her injury is healed. Beyond that, you need to do everything you can to support your daughter in whatever she decides about gymnastics in the future.

I wish you luck.

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