Denver Broncos’ defensive end Derek Wolfe’s neck pain was so bad that it forced him to miss two games in 2016 and 5 games in 2017. This is no small thing for professional athletes, who are used to their bodies aching, and Wolfe had been hurting since 2013. For a while, he thought it was normal, as it’s part of his job to bang his shoulders, neck, and head against other massive men. But when his neck was twisted during a 2016 game by an opponent grabbing his facemask, everything changed. He suffered from nerve damage, and then a subsequent injury made things even worse. His face, arm, and thigh went numb after a hard hit, and he ended up going on the injured reserve list and staying there.
Following this, Wolfe was sent to see a team of spine specialists, who diagnosed him with a condition that represented “a form of spinal stenosis” as a result of multiple sprained joints in his neck. His initial diagnosis did not indicate surgery: instead his physicians said that he needed rest and heal properly or face the prospect of losing the use of his right arm. Later he was told that he needed a Foraminotomy, which is a procedure that takes out some of the bone where the nerve comes out, enlarging the passageway through which the spinal nerves exit the spinal canal. In addition to the surgery he also had stem cell treatments. Now he is feeling much better.
Speaking about the difference that the surgery has made, Wolfe says, “I can turn my head like an owl. It’s crazy. I can look all the way behind me. It’s insane. I can honestly sit here and tell you that as far as my neck goes – I have to build my strength back up, but I got Broncos strength coach Loren Landow to help me so I’m not worried about that. But it’s fixed. I feel so much better. I swear I couldn’t do a pushup during the season.”
Undergoing a foraminotomy can seem frightening, but this decompression surgery generally yields the same type of life-changing results that Wolfe experienced. The procedure gets its name from the passageway through which the nerve roots exit, which is called the foramen. The procedure is often done in combination with a laminotomy or laminectomy, in which a portion of the lamina covering the spinal canal is removed to provide greater access to the area. Following an incision being made and the muscles retracted to allow the surgical instrument’s entry, the spine surgeon creates space around the nerve root and then closes the surgical site. The surgery is often done on an outpatient, same-day basis, though some patients may require an overnight stay. Most importantly, patients experience an almost immediate relief of their symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain, our cervical spine specialist in New Jersey can help. Call our office today to set up an appointment and put yourself on the road to recovery.