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The National Football League is about 4 months from the opening day kick-off and yet millions of football fans will be riveted to their televisions and computer tablets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Why? The annual NFL draft of amateur players occurs on these nights and for at least 254 players, it’s the most important day in their young lives.

Being chosen in the NFL draft is the first official step to becoming a member of a very elite club. It’s a club which can be very lucrative and one where the membership is short-lived – usually about 6 years. It’s also a business where the occupational hazard often includes debilitating back pain.

Since Texas Back Institute specializes in spine injuries, artificial disc replacement, and treatment of chronic back pain, we thought it might be interesting for players and fans alike to get a glimpse into how these supermen withstand the back pain resulting from playing professional football. For this analysis, we’ve asked Dr. Shawn Henry, whose specialty at Texas Back Institute is spinal surgery, to give us his expert opinion on how these men survive a  physically demanding of team sports. But first, let’s look at this year’s draft.

Who Gets the Top Pick?

For the players who hope to hear their name called from the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, draft day is the next step in a journey which likely started when they were about 8 years old, competing in Pop Warner or Pee Wee football. Through high school and college, these athletes have excelled in a game that requires strength, speed, year-round conditioning and athletic instincts only a tiny percentage of human beings possess.

Using a formula that allows the teams with the worst record in the previous year to get the earliest choices and theoretically the most talented players, the NFL draft has gone from a little observed event, watched by a few hardcore sportswriters in the early days of the league, to a three-day, fan-friendly happening. This year is no exception. The hoopla around the draft is palpable.

While it is always possible for a last-minute “trade” to occur among the teams which can change the order of their drafting position, as it stands now the first five teams in this year’s draft and their likely picks (based on media reports) are:

(1)  Kansas City – Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

(2)  Jacksonville – Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

(3)  Oakland – Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

(4)  Philadelphia – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

(5)  Detroit – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

For the rest of the draft order, you can click here.

Based on factors too numerous to list, many of the teams have more draft picks than others. For example, San Francisco, which had an excellent year in 2012, has the most number of picks in this year’s draft at 13. Theoretically, this should enhance their status in the upcoming season. Whereas, New England, New Orleans, Chicago and Carolina with the fewest number of picks (5) should be at a disadvantage. However, NFL fans know  having lots of draft picks seldom translates to a winning season.

When the smoke clears on Saturday night, 254 players will realize their dream of playing in the National Football League, assuming they make the team. Unfortunately, not every player drafted makes the cut and others in  this group can  sustain an injury in the summer training camps conducted by every team  prior to the opening of the season and their dream will die.

As noted earlier, a typical NFL career is extremely short – usually about 6 years for a player who is on the opening day roster. The reason for this is obvious when one watches the games each Sunday. The human body –even the superhuman bodies of these highly-conditioned players – has not evolved to the point of sustaining the type of repetitive trauma experienced in a typical season without injuries.

Some of these injuries can be  associated with the neck and back areas of the body and for some insights about these we asked the opinion of an expert, Dr. Shawn Henry an orthopedic spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute.

Henry_MD_web_1Over a typical season, the bodies of professional football players take a tremendous pounding. What is it about these player’s bodies that allows their backs hold up under this abuse?

In order to have attained their position in the NFL, a player has spent his life building muscle mass. This is the most important aspect of his conditioning is what allows the player to withstand the constant trauma of a typical season. This muscle mass gives dynamic support to the spine. Every player in the league has built strong abdominal muscles, quadriceps and other muscles groups and these “load share” the impact of the constant hits to the spinal column.

As fans, we often hear that a player has sustained a “stinger.” What is a stinger and is this a serious injury?

Basically, when someone gets hit hard in the neck and shoulder areas, the impact causes a temporary trauma to the peripheral nervous system. This causes a short-term burning, stinging pain. However, since this does not affect the central nervous system, there is no potential for paralysis and typically goes away in a short time.

The NFL Players’ Association notes the most common back problem among their members is degenerative disc disease, associated with arthritis. What does this mean and how can a player avoid this?

Actually, the most common back problem for every human, not just a professional football player, is degenerative disc disease. The medical term for this arthritic condition is “spondylosis” and it is a condition that is exacerbated by smoking, obesity and trauma. A player is not likely to smoke, but he may have tendencies toward obesity and withstanding physical trauma is a part of the job description. This trauma and weight can cause injury to the disc. For an athlete, good conditioning is the only way to help protect your spine.

There will likely be a great many young athletes watching the NFL Draft this weekend thinking they might get a chance to perform in the Big Show in the future. What can a young football player focus on in order to strengthen his back muscles?

The key is to build core, isometric spine stabilization. Weak core muscles cause injuries. They should also work on flexibility and increasing a range of motion in their muscle groups, their cervical spine and their lumbar spine areas. They should also make certain the correct equipment – helmets, pads, collars – are used in practice and game situations.

In your practice, what is the most common back injury  you see in younger athletes?

The most common ailment in high school and college athletes is a herniated disc in the neck and a pars fracture in the lower back. This is most commonly seen among interior linemen because they extend their spine by arching their back when they come off the line to block. With repetitive trauma a fracture can occur. Interestingly, because of the tendency to extend the spine, this condition also occurs with some regularity among equestrian competitors and ballet dancers.

What is the NFL doing to help control the number of spinal injuries among players?

Because of the potential for long-term neurological disorders, the league is researching the effects and prevention of concussions among players. There is no correlation between concussions – which affect the central nervous system – and back injuries. As for the league’s efforts in helping to reduce back injuries, there have been many advances in helmets, facemasks and neck wraps. Plus, a few years ago the NFL  introduced rules which prohibit “spearing” and this has probably resulted in fewer incidences of spine and back injuries.

Injuries Are a Part of the Game

Based on viewer ratings, the National Football League has become the most popular spectator sport in the United States. The athletes in this game are big, strong and fast and when they collide, injuries will inevitably happen. As every NFL coach says a few times every season: “injuries are a part of the game.” Hopefully, with better conditioning and high-tech equipment, these spine injuries will be limited in the future.

Dr. Scott Blumenthal was the first Orthopedic Spine Surgeon in the US to perform an Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery. This life changing surgery has now helped over 1,400 Texas Back Institute patients. Recently SpineUniverse.com featured the blog post below about the choosing the right spine surgeon for you.

Choosing the Spine Surgeon Who Is Right for You

Patients often wonder how to choose a spine surgeon to perform their total disc replacement.

The easy answer to this question is simple:  carefully.

The longer answer to this question is:  do your research, both on your surgeon and on the procedure.

Tips for Choosing a Spine Surgeon for Disc Replacement
While thousands of surgeons have been trained in disc replacement techniques, very few have adopted it into their clinical practice with any regularity.

Certainly, the bare minimum requirements for choosing a surgeon would be to ensure he/she is a board certified or board eligible orthopedic or neurosurgical spine surgeon.  “Board certified” means that the doctor has gone through a rigorous testing and peer evaluation process by a specialized medical board.

You can ask your doctor if he/she is board certified, or you can research it online.

Some tips to get a better feel for the expertise of the surgeon are:

  • Ask how long he/she has been performing disc replacement surgery and with what frequency they do this procedure.
  • Make sure your surgeon performs many types of surgery and can tailor your treatment to be most appropriate for your condition. Not every patient is best served with a spinal fusion, nor is every patient best served with disc replacement.
  • Make sure you have open communication with your physician.
  • Make sure you trust and have confidence in your surgeon’s abilities.
  • Look at the surgeon’s academic credentials or published papers.  Find out what they have written on disc replacement and if they are leaders in this specialized area of spine care.

A warning to patients:  Don’t depend on fancy advertising or marketing when choosing a surgeon.  Use all your resources when making a decision this critical. The Internet, medical directories and societies, as well as your regular physician can all be great resources in helping you decide which surgeon to go to.

There are also additional resources such as patient chat rooms and blogs where you can read about other patients’ experiences with surgeons.

Choosing a spine surgeon is a very important decision, and the more facts you can get, the better. Luckily, there are many resources to help you find a spine surgeon who is right for you.

Mistakes Men Make Concerning their Back Health

Men taking charge is nothing new in most situations.  At work, at the gym, on the sports field or even when a little spider invades the kitchen.  When it comes to their back health and safety men can be known for being a little lackadaisical.

Dr. Ted Belanger, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in Rockwall shares 5 mistakes men can make when it comes to their spine health.

 

1)       They don’t exercise their back.  Guys go to the gym and exercise their “glamour muscles” to get strong and look trim, but they only rarely do any exercises to strengthen their back.  Your back is made of the same tissues as your arms and legs, and responds to exercise in much the same way.  The old adage that it’s dangerous to exercise or use your back for strenuous activity is a myth.  You can strengthen it just the same as you strengthen your biceps—with repetitive range of motion against resistance until you reach muscle fatigue.

2)       They don’t do enough research.  Very often evaluation of back problems is sought without any careful research to determine who might be the best person to see.  There are big differences in the training, background, certification and experience of the various practitioners available to assess a patient with a complaint about their back or spine.  The list includes chiropractors, primary care physicians, physiatrists, pain management doctors, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and orthopaedic spine surgeons.  Among these, no specialist has more training and experience assessing and treating musculoskeletal conditions than an orthopaedic surgeon.  Most of the others on the list either have very little musculoskeletal training (neurosurgeon) or have no experience at all in the surgical treatment of spine conditions (all the rest).  An orthopaedic spine surgeon is in the best position to diagnose and treat a patient with a back/spine problem, whether or not they need surgery.

3)       They don’t ask enough questions.  Patients often present for a second opinion to our clinic.  A common element of their frustration and sometimes confusion is a lack of understanding of their problem.  This can be avoided by insisting your questions be answered the first time around.  Bringing a list of standard questions is a great way to make sure you are communicating well with your doctor.  Good questions are:  What is my diagnosis?  What will happen if I don’t do anything about it?  What are my options to treat it and what can I expect from the treatment?  How does the treatment work, exactly?

4)       They don’t recognize the difference between amateur and expert advice.  People often put as much weight on their neighbor or friend’s back advice as they do their doctor. While good-intentioned, the patient should at least recognize that their doctor, particularly if they are an orthopaedic spine surgeon or neurosurgeon, has much more insight and understanding about the diagnosis and treatment options.  A common comment made by patients and their friends and family is “back surgery doesn’t work”.  But that’s a drastic generalization that simply isn’t true.  There are many different kinds of back surgery (discectomy, fusion, disc replacement, decompression, etc.) and many different reasons to undergo back surgery (degenerative conditions, fractures, trauma, scoliosis, deformity, tumor, infection).  Whether or not surgery is successful depends largely on the diagnosis you are treating, the details of the workup, the execution of the surgery, the choice of surgical technique, and the alignment of the expectations of the patient with what the surgery can accomplish.  Orthopaedic Spine Surgeons know this better than anyone else.

5)       They too often think their back problem is hopeless and they just need to “live with it”.  Patients are often afraid to seek advice about surgery because they are afraid.  They should think of the office visit the way the doctor does: a consultation to answer questions and provide information.  The decision about what treatment to participate in always rests with the patient.  If you are still not sure after visiting with a doctor, feel free to do more research, ask more questions, and seek more advice from experts.  Sometimes second or even third opinions are necessary to come to a decision about how to proceed.

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to one of these mistakes, it’s not too late.  Give us a call today and we will talk to you about your situation and help you figure out what the best treatments are for you!

Professional bass fisherman, Ryan Lovelace gets back to fishing

As a professional bass fisherman, Ryan’s pain was exacerbated by his participation in several fishing tournaments every year. In order to win or place in these professional bass fishing tournaments, the angler must catch as many bass as possible with the idea being that the final fish weight of his top 5 fish are compared to the other participants.

The fishing tournament typically lasts for two days and the more fish that are caught, the higher probability of getting 5 huge ones. This requires lots of casts. How many? “I typically cast 3,000 to 3,500 casts each day of a tournament,” Lovelace said.
Standing on his feet for about 8 hours and casting 3,000 times a day during a tournament took its toll on Ryan’s injured back. Over time, it wore down his L5 vertebra and Dr. Richard Guyer at Texas Back Institute recommended a microdiscectomy.
After this procedure was completed, Ryan spent less than 24 hours in the hospital for recovery and was sent home for rest and further rehabilitation. A short while after his operation, Ryan is getting back to his top fishing form. He hopes to be completely recovered and able to compete in the 2013 pro bass fishing season.

Artificial Disc Replacement

Texas Back Institute is a global leader and pioneer in spine care, having performed more than 1,400 artificial disc replacement procedures with 14 different types of ADR devices, beginning in 2000 with the first ever performed in the United States. One of the latest advancements in spine surgery, artificial disc replacement gives our patients an opportunity to retain mobility and resume their lives with minimal pain or discomfort. Led by the world-renowned spine surgeons at our Center for Disc Replacement, we perform this motion-preserving, life-changing procedure on patients from around the globe each year. If you’re suffering from chronic back or neck pain, our concierge services team will help you coordinate all aspects of your visit to TBI so you can receive treatment from some of the best spine surgeons in the world. It’s your time to get back to life.

Is chronic back pain making you depressed?  Dr. Andrew Block explains.

Chronic pain is a problem affecting nearly 1/3 of the population in the US and depression is one of the problems which can accompany chronic pain. Statistics show about 85% of patients who have chronic pain experience symptoms of depression.

Some symptoms of depression include:

  • Sleep disturbance – which includes sleeping too much or too little
  • Appetite disturbance  – eating too much or not eating enough
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal from other people
  • Shortened sense of future or a fear of dying
  • Loss of motivation

These symptoms plus a whole host of other symptoms make it very difficult to recover from chronic back pain.  In fact, there are a lot of indications chronic back pain and depression have primarily the same symptoms and they feed off of each other.  For example, when someone is hurting – they don’t sleep well, they lose their motivation and their enjoyment in life, which in turn creates depression and enforces chronic pain.

Fortunately there are many types of treatment available for chronic pain with depression.

Some treatment options of chronic pain with depression include:

  • Anti-depressant Therapy –  Anti-depressants help to relieve the symptoms of depression but because the same biochemical pathways are involved in depression and chronic pain the anti-depressant medication can also have a secondary effect providing some pain relief.
  • Cognitive Therapy – This type of therapy involves helping the patient observe their surroundings and find things they enjoy in their situation even though they are in pain. This helps the patient to be optimistic and the focus is not so much on the pain but the gains and good things in their lives which remain.
  • The above treatments can also be combined with physical therapy exercises and rehabilitation to further help the patient learn ways to manage their pain.

If you are experiencing depression related to chronic back pain, don’t despair.  There are many treatment options available to help you.  Call us today and we can help get you the treatment you need.

Back pain?  Try these at home treatments.

Do you know that 4 out of 5 Americans suffer from low back and neck pain at some point in their life? Many factors can contribute to this type of pain including poor posture, previous injuries, muscle strains or even disc degeneration.  The good news is most back pain and neck pain will get better without surgical intervention.

Try these tips if you find yourself fighting back pain or neck pain.

  1. RELAX – As I mentioned above, most back and neck pain will heal on its own without surgical intervention.  Stressing out about back and neck pain will only add to your discomfort.
  2. ICE – Apply a cold compress to the painful area.  Ice can be used for the first two or three days to help reduce swelling and inflammation and acts as a mild topical pain reliever.  Quick tip: You can easily make your own ice pack using liquid dish detergent and freezer bags.  Just pour detergent in the bag, seal tightly (removing air) and place it in the freezer.  You may want to double bag it just to be safe.
  3. HEAT – Once any swelling/inflammation has subsided you may want to apply heat.  You can take a warm bath or shower or use a heating bad to help increase circulation to the painful area.
  4. OTC PAIN KILLERS –For mild to moderate pain over the counter pain killers like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can be helpful in easing discomfort. (Be sure to follow the suggested use instructions and don’t exceed the recommended daily dosage.)
  5. STRETCH – Stretching will help extend the muscles in your neck and back and help release stress on your back and neck.  For your neck, slowly roll your neck from one side to the other holding on each side for 10 seconds.  Repeat 5-10 times.  For your back, lie face down and put your hands on the floor.  Slowly lift your upper body and slightly arch your back.  Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.

Most importantly, know when to seek MEDICAL ATTENTION.  If pain persists, seek medical attention from a physician.  If you aren’t sure what type of physician you should make an appointment with, call us! Dr. Effat Jehan is our triage specialist at Texas Back Institute and she can help determine what next step is most appropriate for your condition.

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