Early on in Rio Summer Olympics women’s road race, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten was leading the pack down the winding curves of the streets of Rio. At a notable sharp, and albeit dangerous right-handed turn, van Vleuten lost control and when head over heels, and handle bars. She landed with her helmet taking most of the blow to the ground, followed by the rest of her body striking a nearby curb. The athlete was rushed to the hospital by medical staff.
Annemiek van Vleuten sustained multiple bruises, a severe concussion, and three broken vertebrae following a horrific bicycle crash. She was in place to take the gold before misjudging a corner and crashing out. Only four weeks later she was back on the trails with the approval of her physician. Just hoping to compete, the 33- year old entered the Lotto Belgium Tour in September. She would end up the victor of the race with a lead of seven seconds and an average of 48.6 kilometers per hour (roughly 30 mph).
General treatment for spinal fracture are non-operative.
Pain management, rest, and external bracing are often used to make the person comfortable during the healing process. Pain from the fracture typically subsides within a few days or weeks, and early gentle motion activities can begin. If there is prolonged pain from a spine fracture, surgery to repair the fracture could be considered.
Annemiek’s condition was complicated by her concussion, so even though it was indicated that she could begin early range of motion, she was restricted due to the severity of her concussion. Guidelines for return to participation following a concussion are pretty standard regardless of severity. Criteria generally consists of being symptom free at rest and with mental exertion. They must be within normal ranges of any pre-season base line testing and have normal balance testing. Most athletes work with a sports injury professional that gathers pre-season information, coordinates care between a specialist, and assists the athlete maintaining a safe healing environment in the event of a concussion.
Annemiek’s story is inspiring and shows the determination of an Olympian. Not many people would be brave enough to challenge their bodies so soon after a devastating injury. We look forward to seeing big things from this name in Olympic cycling over the next four years!
By: Riki Duncan, MA. Ed, ATC, LAT