New York Knicks fans have undergone quite the roller-coaster season. From enjoying success through Linsanity to having their head coach Mike D’Antoni resign in the middle of the season, the Knicks are the very definition of a streaky team. The injury bug threw another wrench into their unusual season by sidelining Amar’e Stoudemire with a bulging disc in his lower back. Stoudemire returned to action Friday night in the team’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His injury, along with the recent surgery performed on Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard for a herniated disc, has drawn attention to disc problems among basketball players.

The Knicks had initially said that Stoudemire was out indefinitely after an MRI revealed the injury. However, a doctor in Miami reportedly offered a second opinion and advised against surgery. By deciding to not opt for surgery, Amar’e, nicknamed STAT, seemed to be demonstrating that he wanted to play this season.

A bulging disc in the lumbar spine is a painful condition among athletes and non-athletes. A bulging disc is different from a herniated disc in that the outer layer of the disc does not rupture, so the contents of the disc do not leak out into the spinal canal or nerve root area. However, it can still be a painful condition.

Low back painOptions for treatment for a bulging disc depend on many factors, such as pain severity, job or sports demands, and neurologic symptoms. Physical therapy for strengthening the muscles of the lumbar spine and the abdominal muscles and other supporting muscles can be very helpful. Other options include epidural injections of cortisone, an anti-inflammatory medication. Rest from the offending activity or sport is usually part of the rehabilitation process as well. As symptoms improve, activity is gradually increased until the athlete is fully back to sports or exercise.

Asked during the absence for an update on Stoudemire, Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson had remained ambivalent when giving reporters a specific return date. “He’s just rehabbing, that’s all it is right now,” Woodson remarked. “Things seem to be going smoothly. There hadn’t been any setbacks or anything like that as far as I know of. I’m pleased with where he is.”

Larry Johnson, a retired NBA player who also currently works in the business and basketball operations department for the Knicks, hopes to give Amar’e Stoudemire some advice on playing with back pain. “I would like to talk to Amar’e and just get his symptoms and get what he’s going through,” Johnson said.
Stoudemire’s injury follows a long course of treatment and rehab for what sounds like a similar condition last season. He was limited in last season’s first-round playoff games against the Boston Celtics, and ultimately the Knicks were eliminated. Amar’e denies that the current bulging disc is related at all to last year’s injury, however.

Two days ago Stoudemire returned to action from his current injury, scoring 15 points and 3 rebounds in 27 minutes of action. He reportedly wore a brace on his lower back and was seen frequently working with the Knicks’ athletic trainers. If the Knicks’ are planning on making any noise this postseason, they likely will need STAT to make a full recovery.

I want to thank Prateek Prasanna for his research and assistance with this post.