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Chronic Back Issues Lead to Basketball Star Undergoing Second Surgery

Basketball star Dwight Howard has been sidelined by back surgery. It is the second time that the athlete has required minimally invasive surgery to address a herniated disc in his lower back, and this time it is expected that his recovery and return to the game could take as long as 3 months.

For anybody who has ever been diagnosed with any type of back issue, let alone a herniated disc, the notion of playing an aggressive sport like professional basketball while suffering the pain of the condition is almost unimaginable. At even a playground level of play, basketball requires bursts of speed, leaping and landing, twisting and turning. Add to that the stress of jostling and bumping up against equally talented and aggressive athletes all intent on winning and it’s no wonder that Howard sat out the better part of the early season and eventually removed himself from play entirely in order to have the required surgery.

Statements released by the Washington Wizards earlier in the season indicated that Howard was suffering from “gluteal pain” and referred to him having been diagnosed with piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is a very specific condition in which the piriformis muscle puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Speaking of the injury, Howard had 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.”

The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks. It stabilizes the hip and leg, allowing us to shift our weight from one side to the other and remain upright. Though piriformis syndrome can cause sciatica, it is important to be able to determine whether the pain is originating from the muscle or from a herniated disc. The diagnosis requires careful evaluation and reassessment if initial treatment approaches don’t offer relief.

Howard had originally been given a pain-relieving injection when it was thought that the pain was coming from the piriformis, but last week he had microdiscectomy surgery on the L4-L5 area of his spine, assumedly to address the same herniated disc that was first operated on back in 2012.

Though a microdiscectomy is considered minimally invasive and requires only a small incision with no need for major muscles to be significantly impacted, the procedure involves surgical removal of the material from the herniated disc that is putting pressure on the nerves in the back. Rehabilitation is still expected to take a full three months. This means that Howard is likely to miss the majority of this year’s professional basketball season.

For more information on minimally invasive spine surgery, contact us.