NORTH CANTON, Ohio — Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor will miss the home opener after spraining his ankle while running the bases earlier this week, but injuries can be frustrating for athletes of all ages.
Today, 16-year-old Owen Blackledge is able to play catch with his dad, Todd Blackledge, a former NFL quarterback and current college football announcer. But just a few months ago, tossing the ball around wasn’t so easy for Owen.
Owen is a promising pitcher and infielder at Hoover High School in North Canton.
“I’d say when I was doing workouts it was like sharp pain,” Owen said. “I just felt like I couldn’t move when it was that painful.”
Owen was diagnosed with spondylolysis — two stress fractures in his lower back.
“The first thing is you just got to rest,” he said. “There’s no sure timetable. I kind of got worried.”
“The injury caught me by surprise too, because I thought he was doing things the right way,” Owen’s father said.
It turns out, Owen’s injury is the most common stress fracture among young athletes.
“You’ll see I’ve drawn on this a couple hundred times because I see so many kids who get these small fractures,” said Dr. Joe Congeni from Akron Children’s Hospital while pointing at a well-worn model of the spine. He sees up to 800 kids for back stress fractures each year, usually caused by overuse or overload. Baseball players can be at risk from twisting and weight training.
“They’re very frustrated when they come in because they keep trying to go back to sport and it keeps causing them to have discomfort and pain,” Congeni said.
Congeni came up with a game plan for Owen: relative rest followed by a few months of physical therapy.
“That was the best decision we could have made,” Owen said. He is making a great recovery — practicing with his teammates again, and looking forward to a successful season.
Owen said coming back strong is especially important because he has big dreams. He plans to stick with the sport as far as baseball will take him, and maybe even become a professional athlete like his dad.
“I would hope so!” Owen said. “I know I have the work ethic to do it.”
Congeni says some kids play through the injury, making things worse, or quit out of frustration.
After Owen’s experience, his dad has this takeaway for parents and athletes: “Listen to their bodies. Make sure they listen to it and you don’t have to prove that you’re tough.”
“You don’t want to rush back and have reoccurring injury,” he said. “That’s what all my coaches, my family have been telling me. Just take your time. You don’t want a reoccurring injury.