Ryan Shazier Update: Conflicting Reports Suggest Limited Rehab Success

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker is getting better, but not that quickly.

ryan shazier walking

Adding to the excitement surrounding the Super Bowl, a report that paralyzed Pittsburg Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is walking again surfaced online on Sunday. An unnamed source confirmed to ESPN that he has “regained movement in his legs and is engaging in a regular walking routine,” leading to a flurry of speculation about the success of the emergency spinal stabilization surgery he had in December.

A pair of tweets from sports reporter Michele Tafoya and Shazier himself on Sunday afternoon, however, seemed to backtrack on the good news. In the tweet, Tafoya clarified that Shazier wished to clarify the report: “Although he does have movement in his legs, he is not walking on his own. Shazier needs assistance from a walker or other people to support him in his rehabilitation walking, which remains a struggle.” Retweeting her article, Shazier signed off on her statement.

Despite the fact that he is not walking independently, it is remarkable that Shazier is mobile at all. The injury he suffered in December was widely reported to be a “spinal contusion,” an extremely dangerous bruise that threatens paralysis. In a previous article, Inverse explained why the injury is so dangerous.

The term “contusion” is medical parlance for a bruise — what happens when the capillaries under the skin break, causing blood to spill out and swelling to build. While most bruises may seem minor, they can be quite dangerous when they happen close to the spinal cord, the neurological highway that runs from the brain to the rest of the body. The flood of blood under the skin causes serious swelling, which can incapacitate any nerves in the area through intense squeezing or by cutting off their blood supply.

Depending on where the trauma occurs, “the spinal cord’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the body’s systems that control sensory, motor and autonomic function below the level of injury” could be jeopardized, according to the AANS.

NFL Players Association physician Dr. Anthony Alessi was discouraged by the spinal stabilization surgery that Shazier underwent in December, which was meant to realign any misplaced or broken bones surrounding his spinal cord. At the time, Alessi went so far as to say “He may not play football again.” But in early January, when Shazier regained feeling in his legs, his prognosis seemed to improve. He even made it to the Steelers’ game against the New England Patriots on January 14.

I’ve had a lot of 1st downs at UPMC, but you know being the defensive guy I am, my mind is on 3 and out. With that being said, I want everyone to know that I’m moving on to the next step of the process. Today’s a big day for me as I’m officially being released from the hospital. I want to take a moment to thank the people who have helped me the past two months. First and foremost, I want to thank God because at the end of the day I don’t think I’d be making progress without His vision and hands protecting me and my family. I will continue to trust in Him and thank Him, because it all starts with Him. To my family: you’ve been my rock. Words can’t express how thankful I am for you Michelle, RJ, Mom, Dad, and VJ for always being there for me. You’re my everything. To Jerome: my trainer and best friend. Thank you for being there from day 1 and every day after continuing to push me to be better every day. I’d like to thank Dr. Okonkwo, Dr. Harrington, Dr. Maroon, and Dr. Schroeder for their amazing work on my procedure and continuous care. I can’t appropriately express how grateful I am for how quickly you’ve helped me bounce back. I want to thank the medical staff at UPMC for their amazing care, support and therapy they have given me- especially Joe, Nikki, Karolina and Dani. I know the staff will continue to help me find a way to keep on pushing as we continue therapy. The support from my teammates has been truly amazing. From former players to current players and their families- they have helped me and my family day to day with visits and gifts. We can’t thank you enough. I want to thank Mr. Rooney, Coach T, Mr. Colbert, and the entire Steelers organization for the unwavering support they’ve given me. I knew they were an amazing organization, but more than ever they’re family to me. Lastly, I want to thank Jimmy, Candice, and the CAA Sports staff for being here when I need them most. I don’t know if I’d be where I’m at or making the progress I’m making without you guys. I want everyone to know that all of the support and prayers are absolutely being answered. I will continue to work hard and push and find a way back. #Shalieve #Steelers #prayfor50

A post shared by Ryan Shazier (@shazier) on

Shazier’s mental health is likely being monitored as closely as his physical health. For professional athletes who lose the ability to play because of injury, the risk of serious mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and substance use or abuse, is high.

Treatment for players with these issues often takes the form of guided meditation and relaxation techniques, together with emotional support from loved ones. Judging by his posts on social media, Shazier seems to be in good spirits, having even coined the hashtag #Shalieve as his catchphrase for making a full recovery.