An NBA season is a grind — 82 games of all out effort can take a toll on the body. We see lingering or chronic injuries affect players all the time, with the Golden State Warriors being no stranger to this.
The franchise has done a great job managing and controlling the games and minutes of its stars over the past five seasons, first with Steph Curry's ankles, Andrew Bogut's back and even Andre Iguodala's hamstrings. The franchise has adopted new practices utilizing technology to help monitor and control the physical state of our players.
Last week, Klay Thompson admitted to CSN's Monte Poole that he has had back issues that might have caused his slow start offensively to this season.
I've been dealing with the back stuff, so it was about getting the right kind of work in and now I feel almost 100 percent healthy again.
Then Thompson was a last minute scratch from the starting lineup due to back stiffness prior to the Warriors' overtime win against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.
All of this has to raise a flag for the franchise and one of its cornerstones.
Thompson even went as far to admit that he should have sat out the game last Monday against the Pistons at home to rest and get back to full strength. His conversations with the coaching staff and training staff led to him being cleared to play, but can we expect this back injury to be fully clear? We see players like Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant dealing with back injuries (albeit at much older ages) that stay with them all season.
Rather than speculate on the long term affects of back pain, we reached out to a professional in the industry, Frank Cammisa, MD. He is an orthopedic spine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, and kindly answered Golden State of Mind's questions about playing with and through this kind of setback.
Question: Can you talk about the game-to-game stresses that NBA players take on their back because of the sport?
Dr. Cammisa: NBA players have a tremendous amount of stress on their low back given the impact loading of running and jumping. All of the force of that impact loading activity goes through the ankle, knee, hip and into the spine. This could cause issues both with the muscular structure of the back as well as the bony structure.
Question: Reports say that Klay Thompson has been "doing treatment to open up his hips and stretching that has relieved the pain in his back. He says he's felt great for about the past week, and that's been obvious in his production." Can you talk about this recovery process and about the hip adjustment as they relate to back pain? What exercises might he have been doing through with the trainers?
Dr. Cammisa: It is common knowledge in elite athletes that strength and flexibility is extremely important. "Opening the hips," refers to the flexibility of the hip joint that allows less stress to be placed on the spine. For example, if there is a restricted range of motion in the hip, more stress transferred to the spine which can cause problems in the spine. The specific exercise is individualized by the trainers, but generally is flexibility and strength training.
Question: Can you talk about how this injury might effect Klay Thompson as the season goes on? What would be the long-term affects of back pains to an athlete's career?
Dr. Cammisa: Once Klay gets through this injury, he may not be affected for the whole season as long as he continues his strength and flexibility training on a daily basis. Chronic back pain can occur because of structural changes in the spine which can occur with aging and repetitive trauma. Obviously, as one ages, more restriction can occur because of these changes.
Question: Some players even opt for surgery at some point - any comments on when this procedure is finally done and what type of work is done on the player?
Dr. Cammisa: The most common type of surgery done for a lead athlete when one herniates a disc is generally a microsurgical discectomy meaning removing the portion of the disc that is impinging or pressing on the nerve root to relieve pain. Most players do not require this type of surgery.
At this point, it would seem Klay gets stronger and stronger as the games go on. Thompson, because of the amount of shooting that he does and the amount of running this team does, will be monitored as the season goes on. It's painful to see how affected players can get by back issues, with Andrew Bogut skipping games after long flights last season, and even Kobe seeming like a shell of his former self.
We can get the feeling from Dr. Cammisa that the game will naturally take its toll on players like Klay with his back because of the night-to-night stress, but with the league's reduction in three games in four nights and the spacing of back-to-back contests designed to lighten the load on the league's superstars, hopefully Thompson will have the right time to recover and get back to 100%. It appears that backed up by one of the league's best training staffs, the Warriors are in good hands and as long as Klay continues his treatments he appears to be headed toward a full recovery.
(follow me on twitter @badiehard)