Cowboys fans with even the shortest memories probably expected Tony Romo to get injured at some point during this 2016 season. They just weren’t expecting him to get hurt before September. For the second time in three years, Romo has broken bones in his back, and while he was able to play through the transverse fractures in his back in 2014, he won’t be able to play through the compressed vertebrae he suffered against the Seahawks. Early reports suggest Romo will be out for a minimum of six games, leaving the Cowboys in a vulnerable state heading into the regular season.
Chicago Bears: The coaching staff likes wide receiver Daniel Braverman, a rookie seventh-round pick, and he could make the opening day roster.
Cincinnati Bengals: Rookie Andrew Billings will likely be placed on IR to begin the season, while Brandon Thompson will likely start the season on PUP. That frees up some spots along the defensive line.
Cleveland Browns: It’s just not possible to see former top-10 pick Justin Gilbert on the Browns’ roster. They forced him on the field over and over, and he was, at best, inconsistent.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys’ quarterback situation was thrown into disarray because of Tony Romo’s injury. Rookie Dak Prescott will start, but Dallas will add a veteran to back up Prescott at some point.
Denver Broncos: Trevor Siemian appears to have won the starting quarterback job, and Mark Sanchez could be cut. Another likely cut? Running back Ronnie Hillman.
How common is this injury? According to Dr. Robert Watkins Jr., orthopedic spine surgeon and co-director of the Marina Spine Center in Marina del Rey, California, it is relatively infrequent among professional athletes.
“Compression fractures are common in the elderly with weak bones but are pretty rare in young athletes,” said Watkins, who treats numerous athletes of all levels.
So what’s next for Romo? The primary focus for the early phase of recovery is minimizing discomfort.
Fractures are painful, and any movement can further aggravate that pain. While broken bones in the extremities can be casted to prevent movement while they heal, it’s not possible to externally immobilize a specific vertebral segment. Sometimes a back brace or corset is issued, as is the case with Romo, to help control spinal motion that might provoke pain. It cannot entirely restrict movement.
Ultimately, pain is the guide when it comes to an athlete progressing his activity; as the pain decreases, the athlete is encouraged to do more in the way of natural movement and physical exertion. Flexion and compression — the loading forces that contributed to the original injury — are minimized in the early stages to avoid aggravating the condition. As the athlete’s pain resolves and his conditioning improves, he can gradually return. The final phase is being cleared for contact, which depends on the healing progression and minimal risk of further injury.