If you suffer from chronic back pain, then you know how much it can interfere with your quality of life and ability to carry out your normal daily activities. Now imagine what it would be like to have those same issues — and the same or greater level of pain — while having a job that requires you to run at top speeds for short bursts, to bump up against people forcefully, to leap high into the air, twisting and turning as you do so.
That is exactly the position that Washington Wizards center Dwight Howard has been finding himself in. The star player recently took definitive action in the face of relentless pain and took himself out of the game to have surgery performed on his lower back. He is expected to be out of commission for three months.
As is often the case when dealing with star athletes and their injuries, the team and the player himself have been largely closed mouthed about Howard’s ailment, but a statement was issued that referred to “gluteal soreness” that he has been suffering throughout the season, and which was described as having limited his lower body movement. That is why he played less than half of the games that the team has played this year. As of last week, word came that he had submitted to a lumbar microdiscectomy of his lower back. The surgery followed the repair of a herniated disk performed in 2012.
A microdiscectomy is also known as a minimally invasive lumbar discectomy. It is one of the operations performed by our New Jersey spine surgeon, usually after other treatments for lumbar disc herniation have failed. The procedure involves the surgeon removing the part of the damaged disc in your lower back that is irritating the nerve. Because the procedure is done using a small incision and specialized equipment, it requires minimal cutting or impact to the muscles, allowing for rapid improvement or elimination of symptoms and quick recuperation and return to normal activities. In Howard’s case, it is assumed that the disc that had been repaired in 2012 and re-herniated, putting pressure on the spinal nerve that led to Howard’s discomfort.
In October, Howard was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, a neuromuscular condition that occurs when the piriformis muscle puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. The symptoms of piriformis syndrome are extremely impactful for a professional athlete, as the muscle stabilizes the hip joint, helping us to walk, shift weight from one side to the other, and maintain balance. It is integral to every motion of the legs and hips. Howard was given an injection meant to relieve pain and sat out several games waiting for the pain to abate.
Speaking of the time off, he said, “A lot of people don’t understand what piriformis syndrome is. We said it was ‘gluteal soreness,’ so everybody was thinking that it’s something small, but what I had was very painful and it was something that really kept me away from doing what I love the best, which is playing basketball.”
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