New York Mets third baseman David Wright has been sitting on the sidelines on the disabled list since April. Why? His right hamstring has been bothering him. Like many things when it comes to sports injuries, though, it’s very possible that what looks like an injured hamstring might not actually be an injured hamstring.
In the spring of 2011, Wright experienced a stress fracture in his lower back. This injury kept him off the diamond for a couple of months, but he was able to resume playing that summer. In 2013, a hamstring injury put him on the disabled list for a few weeks, then he began having problems with the same hamstring this past spring. In the meantime, he was also diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which might have been caused or exacerbated by his stress fracture four year ago.
Is Back Surgery the Answer?
Up until now, conservative treatments have been tried; Wright’s doctors have been hesitant to recommend back surgery. The procedure does carry some risks, of course, and there’s recuperation time to consider. On the other hand, pain and disability that is not improving on its own can keep a player on the disabled list even without surgery. There are minimally invasive surgical procedures that can get an injured baseball player back on the field.
So, what should you do if the experts disagree on how your case should be handled? Wright has access to excellent doctors, so it’s not simply a matter of choosing a better surgeon. In many cases, the decision of whether surgery should be done is not clear-cut; more than one option might be equally likely to end up with a good — or poor — result.
Making the Decision to Have Back Surgery (or Not)
When you find yourself in this position, there are a few actions you can take and considerations to keep in mind:
- Get a second, third or fourth opinion. No specialist should be insulted if you decide to seek the advice of another expert in the field. In fact, many times, surgeons will collaborate with one another to find a good solution for a patient with a difficult case. If two doctors disagree, seek the wisdom of one or two other experts. You can even ask your current specialist for a referral.
- Determine the best- and worst-case scenarios. In some cases, no treatment (or conservative treatment) might mean that your condition won’t get better, but also that it’s unlikely to get worse. In other cases, sticking with a non-surgical treatment plan might cause greater disability over the long term. Be sure you know what is likely to happen if you don’t have back surgery.
- Discuss the risks of the surgery with your doctor. You probably already know about the risks of bleeding and infection that might be present with any surgery. Also consider how long you will need to recuperate, as well as how likely you are to make a full comeback. Balance this with the risks of not having the procedure done (or of not having it done right away).
In a case like Wright’s, where the patient’s livelihood depends on the success of his treatment, there might not be a clear answer. Some doctors will prefer to act sooner, and others will prefer a wait-and-see approach. In these cases, consulting with another specialist can bring to light new solutions and ideas.
If you need a second opinion regarding your need for a surgical procedure, please contact Dr. Kornel at (914) 351-3600 to schedule a consultation appointment.