Neck Injury Transforms NFL Player’s Outlook on Life

Get Back to It w/ Eric Wood (FOR TRANSCRIPT)

Dr. Rita Roy: Hi everyone. My name is Dr. Rita Roy, CEO of the National Spine Health Foundation, and I’m your host for the Get Back to It podcast, where we tell real stories of healing and recovery. What does it mean to get back to it? It means overcoming injury through treatments that work in order to return to the people and activities you love, whatever that looks like for you.

It means getting back to your life. We’re here to share success stories of those who did just that, and some of the best. Some of these stories, you are not going to believe

at the get back to it podcast. Our goal is to tell stories, a spinal champions who’ve been able to achieve a better quality of life through spinal health care. In today’s episode, I am delighted to be speaking with Eric Wood, former celebrated NFL player who in his ninth season playing for the Buffalo Bills started to have stingers for the first time in his football career.

This changed his life. Now that you know what to expect, let’s get back to it and dive right into Eric’s story. For those who don’t know, stingers is a slang name for a nerve injury of the neck and shoulder, frequently seen in football and other contact sports. Eric, describe to us what the stingers feels like.

Eric Wood: Yeah, I had one for the first time when I was 32 years old, my high school buddies got them. So I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. And I say my high school buddies, my college teammates as well. And then NFL teammates and, you know, in football, it’s just something that we. Expected, uh, pop up from time to time.

And I was just lucky enough to not have one until I was 32 years old playing in my ninth season in the NFL for me, you know, it’d be contact to the head or neck area, and then it would be a burning numb sensation down my right arm. I played center. So I snapped the football in each play. So occasionally that would lead to, uh, some angst leading into the next play, but generally those symptoms subside fairly fast and you just move on to the next play.

Dr. Rita Roy: And so Eric, let’s backtrack for just a little bit and talk about your history with football. You played football in high school. You were a star player in high school. You went on to play in college in Louisville. And I’m like fast tracking over a lot of things here. And then you were in the first round draft.

I think you were like number 28 in, in, in the draft in 2009 for the NFL. That is just awesome. So that is a lot of years. Of training and athleticism. Talk to us about your, your youth as a, as a young player and what kinds of things you did for physical fitness. 

Eric Wood: Yeah. So when I was growing up, I played all the sports.

It wasn’t the same specialization that you see nowadays. And oftentimes you’ll see football players play other sports growing up as well, because whether it’s baseball or basketball or. lacrosse or whatever it may be track and field. Those, uh, skills that you learned, those, uh, movement patterns, those are going to help you on a football field.

And generally you’re not playing football all year round. Like you might baseball or basketball or one of those other sports as well. And so I played all the sports growing up and really never specialized. Justin football until I was in college. And that’s generally when most will have to just hone in on one sport.

And so started focusing on football at that point and, um, you know, started lifting weights and running and doing conditioning when we got in high school and then continued that throughout, uh, my football career. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, that’s amazing. You know, I’ve had the privilege of meeting you in person and you are about a foot and a half taller than me.

You’re a big guy, Eric. So I guess that comes in handy, um, playing a lot of those sports, right? And at what point did you realize that maybe your, your, your body size could help you select football as your sport? Like, how did that factor into it at all? 

Eric Wood: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I grew from about six foot to about six, four when I was 16 years old.

And at that point I thought I was going to be a basketball player. I thought maybe I’ll keep growing and I can be a basketball player and, you know, maybe be able to play in college. And then I started getting a little bit wider and a little bit broader in the shoulders and. Finally being able to put on weight for the first time ever.

So from the time I was a junior in high school, I went from 205 pounds. I put on 50 pounds in the following year and then another 50 the following year. So I showed up at the university of Louisville, just over 300 pounds. And then when my career ended, I was about 310 pounds. So I kept that weight on for a long time and got, and got paid a lot of money and got a lot of accolades to be big.

And then. Uh, quickly after my career ended, I decided to get as many pounds off as I could in a short amount of time. So I’m about 60 pounds lighter now on a day to day basis, and it definitely makes the joints feel better. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Wow. Well, well, I would say, and I mean this in the best of all ways. I would not describe you as a small person, Eric, but I, I, I think that your, your, uh, NFL playing self, I, I don’t know, that might’ve been scary for me to actually be standing next to you.

I’m about five two and you know, a lot, a lot, uh, a lot smaller. Um, so, so that’s so interesting. So in Louisville, you, um, you’re on the football team and what point did you start thinking, This could become a career for me. This could be a future for me. When, talk to me about that journey and how that evolved for you.

Eric Wood: Yeah, I was only given one scholarship offer out of high school. And so I was one of the lowest recruits to join the university of Louisville football team. I registered in my first year and then my second year, which was technically my freshman year on the field, I started and I started every single game that season and started to get some accolades.

And there was a note that when you make the freshman all American team, they send you this note and it’s so the percentages of those guys that then make it into the NFL. So that planted a seed in my brain that, okay, I can, I can play in the NFL. And the percentages would say that there’s a pretty good likelihood of it.

And I remember my sophomore year, there was a center drafted in the first round. His name was Nick Bangold. And I thought to myself, okay, now centers can get drafted in the first round. That’s going to be the goal that I run after. I’m going after it with everything I got. And three years later, it came true.

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s amazing. That’s a lot of hard work and dedication. You make it sound like it was easy, but I know it was a lot of work and a lot of dedication doing that. Um, that that’s, that’s actually such an inspiring story just right there that you red shirt at your freshman year. And then lo and behold, you get freshman.

All American first team, all American. That’s what a great story. 

Eric Wood: Yeah. And then, you know, blessed to have great teammates, you know, especially as an offensive lineman, you’re kind of at the mercy of those guys around you. And generally you get the accolades when your offense does really well, which. You know, it takes all 11 guys for your offense to perform well.

So I hopped into a great situation by the grace of God was, uh, fortunate enough to play under incredible coaches. And when you only have one scholarship offer, the, uh, the decisions become very easy when you’re going to go, where you’re going to go to college. And the fact that I lucked into such a great situation was truly a blessing.

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s, that’s amazing. And you certainly worked hard for that. And I, you know, we say the, the harder you work, the luckier you get sometimes, right? I mean, that certainly comes true. So Eric, while you were playing this very intense, um, college football career, um, what kinds of things did trainers work on with you to teach you how to care for your body as you’re, you’re putting your body under all of this stress?

And, you know, Playing hard and starting every game. I mean, that’s just a lot of, a lot of work for your body to do. What, what were some of your training and, and maybe physical therapy or those kinds of, um, programs like for you as a collegiate athlete? 

Eric Wood: Yeah. So in the off season, you’re trying to build up as much strength as you can, especially when you play on the offensive line.

So you’re trying to build up enough strength that you can physically dominate that at your position, but then also withstand the tolls that Training camp and a full season’s going to have on your body. You’re doing so much running and drills and footwork and whatnot to try and get your body in the best shape as possible.

And to be able to move and to be able to adapt to, uh, the opposite players on the, on the other team. And so you’re doing so much physical training in the training room, uh, which is what we call like your kind of rehab or prehab center within the facility. You know, in the off season. You try and stay out there out of there as much as possible, but you’re generally working on flexibility, maybe, maybe mobility within joints.

And then obviously if you had any type of long injury during the season, you’ll spend a lot of time there in the off season. That was more. what was happening in my NFL career, not necessarily in college. And then, you know, you’re just looking for any type of advantage that you can catch as a player. So whether that’s a sleep study and analyzing how you sleep at night or your nutrition and.

You know, an RMR test to figure out how many calories you’re burning or a food study test to figure out what, uh, nutrients and foods will work best with your body. You’re truly trying to figure out any advantage that you could possibly get. 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s fascinating. And I’m asking that about your college career, because that sort of lays the foundation for what will take you into right at a future professional career.

So you learn a lot of those skills, you know, as a collegiate player and, um, I can imagine that there was probably massage therapy involved in there, some manual therapy as muscles get tight and joints, you know, get tight that, that you would have learned to go through those kinds of, um, you know, physical therapy routines and, and, um, and techniques as, as you were evolving as a player.

Eric Wood: Yeah. That’s a great point. 

Dr. Rita Roy: And Eric, did you have any injuries in your college career? Did you, were you lucky enough to make it through without any serious injury? 

Eric Wood: Made it through without any serious injuries. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t nicks and bumps and bruises along the way. I actually tore my PCL.

So I had the longest, uh, start streak. So I started the most consecutive games in school history at the university of Louisville, but thank you. But the week that I tore my PCL on my knee, which isn’t. Uh, you can bounce back from that a little quicker than most. We actually had a bye week the next week, and I’m not sure if I would have been able to play in that next game.

I would have surely would have given him my all to get back out on the field, but in the two weeks that we had before our next game, I was able to get back on the field. So I started 49 straight games. I believe that record’s been broke since, but at the time, uh, it was something I held, um, in high regard and, you know, that’s, That’s, um, to me was a sign of taking care of business on and off the field.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, no, you definitely are a person who pushes yourself, challenges yourself, sets the bar high. And that is just what is known and thought about Eric would, when you think about Eric with the person, Eric with the player, um, just, just amazing. So, so then the draft comes up, it’s 2009 and how exhilarating was that?

You were, you were. Yes. Number 28 in that draft. Well, tell me what that was like for you. How, how, how’d that go? 

Eric Wood: Yeah, it was special. And like I said earlier, that became the biggest goal professionally in my life was to become a first round draft pick. And so for me, uh, Being able to get drafted in the first round, be surrounded by family and friends at that time.

And in that moment was, was truly remarkable. I got drafted by the Buffalo bills. And at the time I couldn’t have pointed at Buffalo on a map. Everyone calls it upstate New York, but it’s actually Western New York. It’s kind of in that corner of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, um, the opposite side of the state from New York city.

So I couldn’t have pointed at it on the map. I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and it’s only about a six hour, maybe six and a half hour drive from there, even from Louisville, maybe seven and a half to eight hour drive. So not nearly as far away as I probably originally thought and, uh, was excited to, to get rolling in Buffalo.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. So that, that’s just, congratulations. I just feel like that, you know, as we’re talking and I’m looking at you on the screen, I just can see the sort of joy in your, in your face, as you talk about that, that moment in your career. Um, and so you start this amazing career at the Buffalo Bills and, and Eric, I think you played a couple of different positions, right?

Did you start out as center or you were somewhere else? 

Eric Wood: Started out as a guard and so I played center all through, uh, college. And then when I first got through the bills, they had an established center. So they put me at guard and then in my second year in the NFL, I switched back to center, 

Dr. Rita Roy: yeah, nice back, back to the place where you, you know, in love.

Right. And so, um, so what, what was your early career like with, with the bills? Were you playing a lot of games as a new, new kid on the team or how, how’d that go for you? Yeah. 

Eric Wood: Yeah, so I started off with the Buffalo Bills starting at right guard and, you know, just assume this would be just like college.

I’m going to start every game in the pros in every game that I wasn’t injured for. I did start in the NFL, which, um, I believe it was 120 out of 120 games started all of them. But in my 11th game of my rookie year, I did what they now call the Joe Theismann leg break Joe Theismann famous quarterback for the Washington Redskins, they were called at the time.

Now the Washington commanders, he broke his leg in half on Monday night football. And so at the time, the medical advancements weren’t what they were today. That was a career ender for him. Essentially. Uh, nowadays they can get you back out on the field for the following season. So break my leg in half my rookie year.

And my third year I did an ACL injury, which takes you out for the rest of the season. So two out of my first three years in the NFL and of the season on the injured reserve and wasn’t able to finish the season, which, uh, had some lows in it. But, um, and I write about this in my book called tackle what’s next in those times of.

extreme adversity, which I hadn’t truly faced to that point. I proved a lot to myself to be able to battle back, get back out on the field. And I learned a lot through overcoming those injuries early on in my career. 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s amazing. And, um, I am sure that the work that went into recovery from those injuries, there you are rookie year and.

Massive, like break. And so into physical therapy, into all of that. And, and I, and we talked about all those years of high school and college, like, you know, never having to deal with a major, major injury like that, but you had laid a foundation for understanding how to heal, how to get to it and how to get back on the field.

Right. I mean, that’s, that’s, uh, That’s no small journey. Um, for sure. 

Eric Wood: No, you’re exactly right. And that’s what people often don’t see. Um, you know, the kind of the behind the scenes of the NFL and major sports in general is how much time is truly spent in the training room, especially for the guys that get injured.

It’s not. Hey, you get injured, you go home, you chill out on the couch for a few months and then just kind of get back to normal. When you get injured in the NFL, you’re actually generally working more because you have to get there early and then you’re still there for all the meetings of practice, and then you stay late to finish the rehab.

So you’re actually. Oftentimes when you’re injured, putting in more time at the facility than even the guys that are healthy. So, uh, there’s a lot that goes into it. And we always say in the NFL, the injury rates, a hundred percent, some you have to miss some time for, and some you don’t, so, uh, you got to give a shout out to those trainers in those NFL facilities because, uh, they do so much behind the scenes and don’t.

Oftentimes don’t get the spotlight they truly deserve. 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s yeah, that’s, that’s incredible. I mean, we at the National Spine Health Foundation live in the world of rehab and physical therapy and getting people back to their lives, whatever that is. And, and so we get that part of the universe. But I think a lot of times, you know, that’s, that’s the un, unsung heroes, uh, in the, in the journey.

Right. Um, so first season, um, you know, leg break, leg break. Second season, beautiful flew through that third season, ACL injury. Sometimes those soft tissue injuries are harder even than the bone injuries. So that, that ACL, um, that, that journey takes some time and, and then you get back to the game and. Five years go by no injuries, nothing.


Eric Wood: Yeah, exactly. So, um, after my fourth season in the NFL, I signed a contract extension with the Buffalo bills ended up starting 52 straight games, which was the longest active streak in the NFL for any centers. And then 2016, uh, Monday night football late in the season. We’re at Seattle and I break my other leg, not nearly as bad as the first time, but it still was a season ending injury.

So broke my leg. Um, I broke my fibula and then, uh, did the syndesmosis where the tib and fib split and split the ligaments. Um, between the tibia and the fibula. So, um, tibia and fibula. I wish I didn’t know as much as I do about, uh, the anatomy and, uh, yeah, the anatomy of the human body at this point. But, uh, when you play long enough in the NFL, you’re going to get enough, um, injuries along the way to really understand all these things.

And so. That ended my season 2016. And then before the 2017 season, the bills, uh, fortunately, uh, thought enough of me as a player to give me another contract extension to stay with the team heading into my ninth season in the NFL. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, that’s amazing. And somewhere along the line there, you were nominated or, or you made it to the.

Pro bowl. Is that right? Did I get that 

Eric Wood: right? Yeah. So after the fifth, 2015 season, uh, was nominated to the pro bowl, which, uh, you know, for a quarterback, a lot of times they may skip that. Um, you know, they’re, they’re not going to go risk the injury, but for offensive lineman, we don’t have. Stats. We’re not getting a lot of the publicity.

So for us, the pro bowl is a major honor, uh, for the offensive line in many position groups, uh, within the team. And so, um, really, really awesome honor to be able to go out to Hawaii and celebrate with my family and friends. 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s, that is awesome. So come off the pro ball, you get another contract extension.

It’s 2017. You’re playing. What happens next? 

Eric Wood: Yeah. So 2017, I play every single snap that season, which is pretty rare in the NFL, because, um, even if you start every single game, your shoe may come untied. Uh, there may be plays where you’re not in the game on that particular play. Um, you could be beating a team too bad and they take out the starters or you could be losing too bad and they take out the starters.

So there’s many reasons why you might not play every single snap in a season. But I did that year. We also broke, uh, our playoff drought streak, which was at 17 years at the time, which is tough to do in the NFL because there’s a lot of parody and. With the draft order and the salary cap, they try to make it so teams can rebound within the NFL and keep it competitive.

But for 17 years, we weren’t able to get over the hump, but we finally did in that 2017 season. And so, um, you know, we’re, we’re. On top of the world. I’ll say, even though we lose in the first round of the playoffs, there’s so much optimism within the organization, new ownership, there’s a new GM, there’s a new head coach, all of them are still with the bills to this day in 2024.

So, um, there, there was a lot of, uh, great decisions along the way in the hires that the Google has made within the organization. And then after that season, as I’m trying to get cleared for the pro ball, everybody’s got to do an exit physical. So at the end of the season, any injuries that you claim at your exit physical, the NFL is on the hook for anything that you don’t bring up, then they don’t have to cover it for the rest of your, your life.

And you can essentially, if you show back up in April, when we report back for our spring training. If you’re injured, they can cut you and just, there’s nothing you can do about it. And so you tell them about everything going on and they know most of it because you’re getting treatment throughout the season on, on your, on your injuries.

And so they encouraged me to get an MRI on my neck because I had gotten those stingers for the first time during that season. In my mind, I was ready to just get out of town. My son was about to be born three days later. My wife was going to be induced and I was ready to get out of town. Uh, reluctantly I went and got the MRI and that MRI would, uh, ultimately end my career and we got the news in the hospital room, uh, waiting on the birth of my son, uh, he would be born 50 minutes after I would get the call that at C2, C3, there was disc and bone penetrating the spinal cord.

They weren’t sure if emergency or immediate surgery was needed at the time they would get back to me. But. At that high of a spot on your spine, even with a fusion, absolutely no return to play. And so, uh, that after that 2017 season, my world got completely flipped upside down. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Oh my gosh, Eric, you tell the story with optimism and a smile on your face.

And I can’t even imagine. That is not what you felt like in that birth room. What, you know, most joyous moment of your life, the birth of your child juxtaposed with probably the worst news you could have ever heard in your job. Like that’s. Crazy. 

Eric Wood: Yeah. And I tell with a smile on my face now because I know how the story ends.

Yeah. And, um, I didn’t need surgery and still haven’t. And we monitor that area to make sure that the disc and bone is still pulling off the spinal cord and that there’s Uh, not callusing, uh, happening on that cord. And I don’t have any symptoms at this time. So, uh, just can’t play football and have to be careful with some other activities, but, um, all in all, I get to play with my kids and be a dad and a husband, and I get to enjoy.

You know, physical activities, pickleball, golf, you know, wake surfing, whatever it may be, I can still enjoy those things, uh, that I like to do. And there’s been so many blessings along the way. So many opportunities I’ve gotten to speak. We met at the spine summit. Had I not got that, uh, career, any injury, I would not be there.

I would not be able to express the gratitude that I got to express to that room and, and hopefully make an impact on those in attendance. I’ve had. Many opportunities to speak on stages because of this injury. And so, um, where I would have said at the time, this is the worst news I’ve ever gotten in my entire life.

It’s been a blessing along the way as well. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Well, and part of that blessing is what you do with that news, right, Eric? I mean, and, and, you know, earlier in this conversation, I was. You are hardworking. You push yourself hard. You are, you, you set the bar and, um, you sort of, you’ve taken this bit of bad news, career ending bad news and leaned into the story that it can tell, the message that it can share with others.

And, and, and where do you go from here? And how do you still. Have a career doing something that you love, which is now you’re still working with the NFL, just on the other side of the business. Um, and that is, that is a Testament and a tribute to you and your resiliency, your grit, your intelligence, and your capacity to be strong and move on.

And And take a bad situation and turn that around. And I, it is just such an honor talking with you about this. I, I really, I’m so inspired. I know our listeners are going to be inspired when they’re listening to us as well. Um, Eric, so you have this. Disc herniation, um, and some, some bone, uh, growing into your spinal cord.

How are you managing that now? What, what is that like for you? 

Eric Wood: Well, first, thank you for the very kind words, Rita. I need you to do my introductions at, at speaking gigs for now. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. 

Eric Wood: So, uh, when I, when I first got the diagnosis of the injury, I was told, um, in the immediate. Short term, obviously avoid any contact to the head and neck area, which I do is as best as possible on a day to day basis.

Maybe my little boy, who’s now six, who was born on January 11th, 2018, when I found out my career was over, maybe more wrestling or whatever. Uh, but, but he’s not big enough yet to, uh, to, to cause any harm knock on wood. But, um, and then, uh, for me, it’s, it’s. Chiropractic work, staying loose in the, uh, neck and shoulder area and making sure everything’s in, in great alignment.

They said losing weight, uh, would immediately take some pressure off of that area, uh, at 310 pounds. I had a lot of size, a ton of muscle around that neck, which is great for stability, but it’s also just a lot of pressure on that area as well. So. That was a great reason to dedicate myself at the time to lose a bunch of weight and, and shed some of the, the weight that was required to play offensive line.

And then, um, a lot of it’s just kind of using caution. And so it’s, you know, avoiding things that would be a sudden unexpected impact. We live in Louisville, Kentucky. We don’t get a ton of snow and ice, but it’s being cautious in, in driving conditions where you could get rear ended. And that was one thing they said You know, something you may not think of in the moment, uh, when you get in your car, but you have to be really cautious, you know, driving in the snow and you know, To me, when you have a, an injury that you didn’t necessarily know was there, you can often maybe not take it as serious, even though, uh, an injury at C2, C3 to your spinal cord would be loss of respiratory function and paraplegia, which is, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s extremely severe.

I was carrying a bag of food into our house one time and I slipped in the garage, we have the super slick floor and just fell on my butt, like nothing serious, which caused a stinger. And it made me realize, okay, this, this was obviously an issue. Um, you can, you can often forget. Those times during a game where you have two to three stingers on fairly routine plays and something like that happens in your garage and you realize, okay, this is, this is a serious deal that I still need to take, um, uh, very seriously.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. It’s like the little reminders, right? That cut that pop up and say, we’re here. Don’t forget. We’re here. Um, Eric, what are, do you have a daily Um, exercise regimen or daily or weekly sort of, I would say like PT, but just sort of regular conditioning exercises that you do, or what, what is your daily weekly sort of routine like and managing this?

Eric Wood: Yeah. I generally see a chiropractor weekly or bi weekly and that’s for, for back end, uh, Uh, neck just, just to make sure that everything’s aligned correctly. Um, at times I’ll use a, I believe it’s called a Demi roll to do some kind of self traction at home, you know, at night when watching TV, just to keep that air, try and create just a little bit of separation in that area to relieve.

Some of that pressure, um, but on a day to day basis, um, most of my kind of PT would just be normal activities to stay in shape. So that’s normal weight training, you know, now that I’m not in the NFL and not training to go against these 350 pound defensive tackles, my training looks a lot different now.

Um, in, in, you know, I try to get my cardio from competitive activities, whether it’s walking a golf course, whether that’s. Playing pick ball in the mornings, but just trying to stay in great shape. Um, and, and that’s, uh, so far been working to keep symptoms at bay. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Have the doctors, uh, told you that you may need surgery one day or what, what does that horizon look like for you?

You’re still so young. 

Eric Wood: Yeah. So every six months, uh, MRIs have shown that the disc and bone are pulling off of the spinal cord. So as long as that’s the case, we’re not going to rush into surgery. And then they just said constantly be aware of any numbness, um, in fingertips on the right side or a loss of strength, because that would mean that it’s not necessarily bruising anymore.

Now it’s callusing on the spinal cord. And at that point, We’ll get surgery, but, uh, we’re, we’re hoping, uh, maybe that it would never happen or we can just push it down the road as long as possible. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s fantastic. In Louisville, we have a number of members of our medical and scientific board who are there, excellent spine surgeons.

You’re fortunate to be in a community where if you need, you know, excellent spine care, you’ve got it right at your fingertips there at Norton Leatherman. Uh, hospital center there. Uh, Quite a few doctors who we’ve worked with regularly, and, and that is a blessing, and that’s one of the things we talk a lot about here in the foundation is how do you know when it’s time to see a spine surgeon and how do you find a spine surgeon and how do you know if you’ve, you found a good one.

Um, and, and I think, you know, 80% of the times spine surgeons say. You don’t need surgery. We can deal with this non operatively. And, um, sounds like you’ve had the privilege and, and the, um, the good fortune to find great surgeons who are watching, monitoring, and treating you non operatively, um, until such time where it may Or maybe not ever, uh, be necessary to, to surgically intervene and get that thing taken care of once and for all.

So that’s, that’s just a good fortune there. 

Eric Wood: Yeah, for sure. And I’ve definitely been blessed. I work with Dr. Gum, who’s with that practice. And, uh, he was, he was upset that he wasn’t out at the summit when he heard I was speaking. Uh, but, but he, he stays busy here in town and, uh, I’ve referred many people to him as well.

After my experience with him starting in early 2018. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yes. Well, big shout out to Dr. Jeff gum, who I was just on a call with two days ago. He is brilliant and fantastic and fun and wonderful. And that’s awesome. I’m so glad he’s your doctor. That’s fantastic. Yeah. Great. Well, Eric, um, are there any things that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to share with us?

Eric Wood: No, I don’t believe so. But for those listening, um, yeah, just, just understanding you hit on it earlier that, you know, at the point of a spine injury, um, I’ve heard it said that when one dream is taken away. That’s when life truly begins. And, um, there’s many other, uh, quotes and motivation that you can, um, out there, but there’s hope on the other side of it, even if times, uh, are bleak post, um, you know, traumatic injury.

And so, um, you know, find that perspective to, to get your life back together and you’ll find blessings on the other side of it. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Eric, that was so beautifully said. We here at the National Spine Health Foundation are here to share stories like yours so that we give other people hope. Um, so much of the time when you find out you have a spine condition, you feel like your life is going to end, right?

It’s a life as you’ve known it is ending. And we’re here to say, just like you’ve said, um, there’s perspective to be gained. There is life to be lived and it is not the end of your life. It is maybe one window closing. But another door opening wide open, and you just have to have to have the hope and the faith that that’s going to happen.

And so you sharing your story is just so important and so incredible to, to our, our mission. And I thank you so much for volunteering your time today to do that. So tell us just quickly, as we’re ending here, you have a book that’s out. Tell us about your book and where can we get it? 

Eric Wood: Yeah. Tackle what’s next is, um, anywhere where you can buy books, Amazon, I’m sure is the easiest for most out there.

And it is, uh, my personal journey and talking about my career in the NFL, but then really the transition out of it. I started a podcast in 2018 called what’s next with Eric. What is I tried to figure out the next steps in my life as I. Talked with and had conversations with highly successful people. And that doesn’t necessarily just mean highly financially successful people.

These range from business owners to NFL team owners to former NFL players or current to pastors and professional speakers, whatever it may be. And this book is a compilation of many of the lessons that I learned from those folks. So this is not just my life lessons, uh, comprised and tackle what’s next.

This comes from a number of people that poured into me. 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s awesome. Are you still running the podcast? Can we find it? Yep. 

Eric Wood: What’s next with Eric Woods on all major platforms? 

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s fantastic. Well, that explains why this has been such an amazing conversation. And you have been so great to talk with because you’re, you’re kind of a pro at this.

Um, so thank you for making my job easy today. Um, this has been so wonderful. I so, so appreciate. Uh, knowing you having met you at the spine conference, I was so blown away by your, your speech and your presentation. I think I rushed the stage and I said, I’ve got to meet, I’ve got to meet this guy. I’ve got to meet this guy.

You were so gracious and welcoming and, um, and I, and I so appreciate you and appreciate your time. This is fantastic. So thank you. Thank you. 

Eric Wood: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for all the kind words you shared, uh, throughout this podcast. It was, it was an honor to be on with you and to, uh, utilize this platform.

And as you talk about people finding that what’s next in their life, post spine injury, you’re now given a different platform than you previously had, and it’s your opportunity to use it. So I appreciate you giving me that opportunity here today. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Thank you, Eric. That’s awesome.

At the National Spine Health Foundation, something we believe in most is providing hope for recovery through sharing stories of success and expertise. It isn’t always easy to find someone to relate to, even though 100 million adults suffer from neck or low back pain each year. To hear more stories of spinal champion recovery and access educational materials about spine health, visit us at If you’re interested in supporting.


Eric Wood, a former Buffalo Bills NFL player, and Dr. Rita Roy delve into the lesser-seen struggles and rehabilitation efforts in professional sports. Their discussion highlights the pivotal roles played by athletic trainers and medical staff in facilitating athletes’ returns from injuries. Wood’s own NFL journey was marked by resilience in the wake of multiple injuries, a Pro Bowl nod, and ultimately a career-ending neck injury. The injury, coinciding with his son’s birth, became a catalyst for new beginnings, including advocacy and speaking opportunities. Wood took a proactive approach to managing his spinal health and embracing life’s changes. This podcast casts a light on the hidden struggles, support systems, and adaptability required from professional athletes, offering inspiration and a deeper understanding of their off-field battles.