What is a herniated disc?
First, let’s take a step back to better understand the spine. Your spine is a column, divided into 3 major sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) spine. Each section is made up of bones, called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by fibrous discs. The discs act as cushioning for the spine, and they are made up of two parts: a hard outer protective layer, and a jelly-like center.
When a disc herniates, the soft jelly-like center leaks out. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including injury, trauma, or aging and wear and tear. A herniated disc can compress nerve roots, causing pain. The degree of pain depends upon the amount of the center that has leaked out or broken through, and whether or not it’s compressing a nerve.
Diagnosis for Cabrera: Herniated Lumbar Discs
Everybody took notice when superstar Miguel Cabrera’s performance fall off during the 2017 MLB season. He has always been a consistent heavy-hitter at bat, with a batting average above .310 reported across eight consecutive seasons from 2009-2016. During the 2017 season, he barely achieved a .249 average. The world watched in confusion and many asked themselves, has Cabrera just lost his touch?
Finally, in September 2017, he was diagnosed with not just one, but TWO herniated lumbar discs. The world of professional sports is so competitive that athletes are often prompted to play through pain for the sake of their team’s performance. We’re not here to pass judgement on those who play through the pain, but, ignoring the problem is never the solution for chronic back pain. He made headlines when he finally opened up about the pain that had been plaguing him for the entirety of the 2017 season.
He had been experiencing a type of pain common for those with herniated discs, radicular pain. This happens when the tough external layer of an intervertebral disc ruptures, allowing the inner filling of the disc (the Nucleus Pulposus) to leak out. As this inner filling leaks out, it can put pressure on the nerve roots which run down the spine into the hips and legs. This can result in shooting pains which radiate down into the legs, which compromised Cabrera’s ability to hit the ball effectively.
Herniated Discs in Baseball
Herniated discs are so common in baseball because of the rotational force exerted on the spine every time a player swings a bat. The spinal column is designed primarily to deal with vertical pressure, such as supporting the body. The discs do well with compression, but, when the shoulders and hips generate large amounts of rotational force, the discs often pay the price. Standing 6’4” and weighing about 240 pounds, Cabrera generates a tremendous amount of force, enough to rupture two of his lumbar discs.
Treatment and Recovery
Luckily for Miguel Cabrera, the MLB boasts a 95% return-to-play rate. The treatment for sports related injuries includes physical therapy, oral anti-inflammatory and pain medication, and nerve blocking injections. While all of these are proven treatment methods, Cabrera opted not to have an epidural injection, choosing to battle his injury in six weeks of physical therapy.
He has since successfully returned to the MLB and recovered from that 2017 season slump. His batting average has bounced back to .299, a far cry from the confusingly low .249 average of 2017. As with most back injuries, time is required to heal fully, and, he will likely continue to improve in 2019.
Remember, back pain is not a condition, but rather a symptom of a greater problem. If you or someone you know is living with chronic lower back pain, know that there is a solution. Contact us at 243-841-8939 in order to schedule a consultation and find out how the Microsurgical Spine Center can help lead you towards a future of relief and restoring you to a higher quality of life. We believe in a future without pain – and we are here to help you take back your life.