PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery after sustaining a severe back injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
The Steelers announced the surgery, which was performed Wednesday by team physicians David Okonkwo and Joseph Maroon, who has long been with the team and developed the ImPACT concussion testing program that the NFL has adopted.
The team offered no further updates on the matter.
Spinal stabilization surgery is done with the intent to stabilize the spine when there is some evidence of instability there, according to ESPN injury analyst, Stephania Bell. The procedure involves the insertion of some internal fixation, using hardware, to stabilize a segment of the spine, which presumably gives a person the best opportunity to allow the neurological recovery to continue.
On Wednesday, Shazier was transported from University of Cincinnati Medical Center to a UPMC hospital in the greater Pittsburgh area. Shazier, who was injured in the first quarter of the game, spent two nights while undergoing medical tests. Shazier was strapped to a board for stabilization and carted off the field, eliciting emotion from teammates who care about their playmaker and popular locker room figure.
The atmosphere in the Steelers’ locker room has been a combination of optimism and concern, with details on Shazier’s overall progress scarce. Shazier has been in contact with select players, including safety Mike Mitchell and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Shazier told Roethlisberger for the Steelers to focus on the Ravens, so that’s what they are doing.
After Thursday’s practice, some Steelers were unaware of Shazier’s surgery but are respecting the privacy process. One source said players and coaches are waiting for the appropriate time to visit him.
Defensive end Cam Heyward said he can’t play doctor but the whole situation “just sucks.”
“We’re all praying for him. Hopefully he gets OK,” said Heyward, whose had brief phone correspondence with Shazier. “He’s getting a million text messages so I don’t want to keep bothering him. He’ll come around when he needs to.”
Added defensive coordinator Keith Butler: “I’m not worried about him playing for us again. I’m more worried about him.”
The Steelers signed veteran inside linebacker Sean Spence, who played for Pittsburgh from 2014-15.
Shazier called the defense to his teammates, relaying plays through the headset. Inside linebacker Vince Williams, who has seven sacks on the year, expected to command those duties Sunday.
The Steelers would prefer Shazier be with them but aren’t about to make excuses without him.
“We miss 50 but we have to show up and still play,” defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said. “We’re just doing it for him right now.”
Shazier’s father, Vernon, his fiancée and other family members have used social media to promote the hashtags #prayfor50 and #shalieve. Shazier himself used Twitter to thank fans for their support. “Your support is uplifting to me and my family,” he said.
🙌🏾🙏🏽Just wanted to thank EVERYONE for all the prayers and support for Ryan. So sorry I haven’t been answering phone calls and texts at this time . Please just keep Ryan in your prayers. This is honestly more than football. You guys honestly don’t know how much this means to us and our families. The love and support that has been flooded our way is something that we are truly grateful for. We THANK YOU! 🙏🏽💛God is TRULY able!! #prayfor50 #shalieve #50 #steelers #faith #family
A post shared by Michelle (@mrs.shazier50) on Dec 6, 2017 at 3:00pm PST
The injury has affected the NFL beyond Pittsburgh. The Baltimore Ravens, this week’s opponent, held a team prayer for the fourth-year linebacker.
“This is real life. That’s something that obviously bears remembering,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.