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Abby Dahlkemper realized she needed back surgery after in-game spasm

Abby Dahlkemper had to undergo spinal fusion surgery last November for a back injury. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Abby Dahlkemper has made a triumphant return to the NWSL after missing almost a year with a back injury.

After undergoing spinal fusion surgery last November, the defender returned in late August of this year and scored in her third game back for the San Diego Wave. Dahlkemper opened up about the injury and her long road back to the field on the latest episode of Snacks, revealing that she knew she needed surgery in a game against the Orlando Pride last year in July.

“It was probably like 20 minutes into the game and my back just spazzed. I had a muscle spasm in my back, and I had to get subbed off at like 22 minutes,” she said. “And I just thought to myself, I have to do something about this because I can’t keep trying to push through this.”

Dahlkemper said she had been dealing with spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine, “for a long time,” and the pain started to get worse early last year. While she attempted to rehab it non-surgically over the course of the 2022 NWSL season, a few setbacks aggravated the injury, and the incident in the game against Orlando pushed her over the edge.

“I feel like as athletes, we know our bodies so well, and I just knew something wasn’t right. Like, it didn’t feel like my normal back,” Dahlkemper told Snacks co-hosts Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.

“So I was obviously so scared to get surgery and I didn’t really know what they would find when they went in there, but I was like, I need to get this not only for my career and livelihood, but also for my life after soccer.”

Dahlkemper, who started every game for the U.S. women’s national team in the run to the 2019 World Cup title, said she was fortunate to be able to see a renowned back surgeon near her home in San Diego. Since the operation, the 30-year-old has returned to the field and played a full 90 minutes in the last two games she started for San Diego at center-back.

“It was scary once I got the surgery and got it done because I just didn’t know how I was going to heal, like if I was ever going to be able to get like a full rotation and this and that in my back,” Dahlkemper said. “But I feel like my body has adjusted well and coming back, I feel like I haven’t really missed a beat.”