Sports Health

By Brian Pickering

Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise has been ruled out of the first two games of the National Hockey League playoffs with an aggravation of a back injury that has been reported as a herniated disc. Parise has not played to the expectations of Wild fans as he has dealt with this injury since initially being diagnosed in January. It was reported that Parise was given a cortisone injection in his back the day before scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames in late March as the Wild made a frantic run to the playoffs. Minnesota sports fans should be familiar with this injury as Minnesota Vikings’ center John Sullivan ended up having two surgeries this past year to deal with his disc herniation.

A herniated disc can also be called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc. A disc of the spine has a tough outer ring with a softer jelly-like inside. When there is a crack or weakness in the exterior ring, the jelly-like substance can push through. A disc herniation can irritate or press on nerves causing pain, numbness or weakness. These symptoms can affect the area of herniation (in the neck or back) or may radiate down the arms and legs. The most common signs are arm or leg pain, or numbness or tingling into the extremities.

Many people have a herniated disc and don’t know it. People with no symptoms may have images of the spine taken for another problem and a disc herniation may be found. For these people, no treatment is necessary. For others, disc herniation is an extremely painful condition. Most doctors will start with conservative, nonsurgical treatments. These may include pain medications, activity modification and physical therapy. Cortisone injections may also be used such as the one that Parise had done. For those with spine-specific pain, these more conservative treatments generally work best. Discectomy surgery is most successful on patients with radiating symptoms. It is less successful when used to treat spine-specific pain.

Late Wednesday, it was first reported that Parise may have to undergo a microdiscectomy that would end his season. This would be done to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerve column. Most patients undergoing this surgery are able to go home the same day or the day after surgery. Patients are restricted from bending at the waist, lifting more than five pounds, and twisting for the first two to four weeks. Patients are also encouraged to move around every hour to stretch and walk around. The standard return to work or sports is about six weeks. This is dependent on pain and strength gains from the rehabilitative process. Most patients have excellent outcomes after surgery. Results show that more than 90 percent of patients report good or excellent results after surgery and show rapid improvement in their pain and return to normal function.

With the way the Wild struggled in its final five games, most fans probably anticipated a quick exit from the playoffs. The absence of Parise, along with injuries to Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula, make it more difficult for the Wild to upset a team in the first round for the third consecutive year. The tales of players playing with significant injuries during the Stanley Cup Playoffs are legendary, but Parise and the Wild are being smart by not forcing anything with this injury. Should this not be treated correctly, Parise could have long-term issues that would impact the rest of his career and the nine years remaining on his contract in Minnesota.

Do you have a question regarding sports medicine that you would like to see addressed in this space in the future? Send your questions to SportsMed@lrhc.org and it may be featured in an upcoming article.

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