Kansas center and potential number #1 pick Joel Embiid was in Cleveland Wednesday to work out for the Cavs and undergo any medical tests the team deemed necessary.
The most important part of Embiid’s visit was to find out if the stress fracture in his lower back had healed completely and if there were any other health or injury concerns with the 7’1 center from Cameroon.
I talked with an orthopedic surgeon today to get a better understanding about Embiid’s back injury and whether or not this is an injury that can linger or become chronic. Keep in mind this surgeon did not examine or have direct contact with Embiid, but has dealt with this same exact injury with other athletes before. Here’s what I learned and I will try to put it in terms that even I understand.
This type of stress fracture occurs in the back part and in the ring portion of the vertebrae of the lower back usually caused from a repetitive motion over time, with arching of the back type movements or bending backwards activities. It usually goes untreated and that’s when an athlete will feel stiffness and tightness in the lower back and hips. When this occurs and the pain becomes regular or too severe, the player normally will go to the team trainer and doctor and tell them about their discomfort. That’s when an MRI is usually done in place of a normal x-ray to see if there is a stress fracture, because the x-ray alone will not reveal the fracture.
This type of injury is very common among athletes and according to the surgeon I spoke with, a lot of athletes right now are walking around and don’t even know they have a lower back stress fracture. It happens more frequently with basketball players, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and gymnasts because of how often they tend to arch their backs in their sport and do so with a lot of force applied to that area. So it was good that Bill Self and his staff at Kansas found Embiid’s injury when they did and treated it properly. The Kansas head coach shared with me today in a 1 on 1 interview that you can listen to hear – http://www.kennyroda.com/kansas-coach-bill-self-on-joel-embiid-and-andrew-wiggins/ – that he felt Embiid’s back had healed completely.
I asked the orthopedic surgeon if this type of injury could end one’s career in whatever sport they are participating in? The surgeon told me that very rarely will this type of injury end a career or even need surgery. The way you treat and heal this injury is with what is called “Relative Rest” or staying away from things that cause pain in that area and specific rehabilitation in the pain free range. For more severe cases, a back brace may be needed to restrict the back from bending in a backwards motion, but most of the time a strict rehab program over time heals the stress fracture.
I had one more question for the orthopedic surgeon, if because you already had a stress fracture of this nature once in your back, are your more likely to have a chronic problem? The surgeon told me that if treated properly and healed 100%, you are not more likely to have reoccurring problems. However, if you rush back and don’t let it heal completely, then the chances of having a chronic problem increase.
The last thing the orthopedic surgeon told me was, “This is not an injury we doctors get too worked up about.”
If the Cavs end up selecting Joel Embiid number #1 overall, we’ll know that the Cavaliers doctors agree with that statement and his back is fine. However if the Cavs do not draft Embiid, it will tell us one of two things, either GM David Griffin liked another player better, or that Embiid’s back was not completely healed and it was something that got them all worked up and the doctors, Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert did not want to take a risk on it.