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Expert says there is no pat answer to Derrick Rose’s back woes

Derrick Rose  | Sun-Times Medifile

Derrick Rose | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: March 15, 2012 8:15AM

Bulls star Derrick Rose saw specialists Monday because of lingering pain in his lower back, and the team confirmed an MRI exam showed “no structural damage.”

Bulls general manager Gar Forman took this as positive news, but questions remain about Rose’s back and his status for returning after missing the last two games.

“He had an MRI,” Forman said. “He went to see a specialist. The specialist re-confirmed what we thought. There’s no structural damage. It’s muscular. He’ll continue with what he’s been doing with therapy and massage and rest. He may be fine tomorrow. He may be fine a week from now.”

The team continues to say Rose is troubled by back spasms, but the problem has lingered for two weeks. That often is the result of a more significant injury, according to Jeff Winternheimer, a physician at the Illinois Back Institute.

An MRI showing no structural damage means only that there are no broken bones, Winternheimer said. An MRI of the sprained left big toe that caused Rose to miss five games earlier this season would not have shown structural damage either, for example.

Winternheimer has neither examined Rose nor seen the MRI of his injured back but suspects the problem is disc-related.

Winternheimer also said it’s not uncommon for a disc injury to go undetected by an MRI.

“A spasm is the result of a protection mechanism,” said Winternheimer, who works with several former Bears players. “There’s an injured part of the spine and muscles get tight to protect it. After 14 days, you don’t have that spasm. An inflammation process takes over to protect the tissues deeper inside like a disc.”

The Bulls’ championship aspirations start and end with Rose — reason enough for concern after his back injury seemed to get worse rather than better on a ­recently completed nine-game trip.

Winternheimer said injuries to athletes are not always limited to a specific event. In this case, Rose said he doesn’t know when he originally injured his back. Winternheimer opined that several factors could be contributing to the injury not responding to treatment and Rose missing consecutive games.

He said the sprained toe Rose suffered earlier this season could also be a factor.

“When you have a problem with your foot it predisposes you to have a problem with you back,” he said. “It alters your mechanics of movement. You’ve modified movement patterns as a result of the [injured] big toe. If you alter your movement pattern you throw off the kinetic chain and there is a weakness further up.

“The fact that they have to play three days in a row and in airplanes every day doesn’t help.”

Rose said he suffered a similar injury during his senior year at Simeon, which Winternheimer believes is relevant information.

“You can have an injury and when you’re young and in high school and the pain goes away but the original injury is never 100 percent healed and it’s a little weaker than normal and you’re predisposed to having a disc injury,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like he’s had a chronic problem with back pain.”

Winternheimer said even if it was a disc issue he wouldn’t recommend surgery for someone so young.

“Sometimes it just needs to be relaxed or there needs to be more aggressive therapy to get pressure off disc and they’re OK,” he said.

Rose plays as hard as anyone in the game. How he plays and the stress from all those explosive movements put on his body might also contribute to his missing seven games with injuries.

“They say the injuries take place in the transition zone or the transition from one direction to an opposite direction,” Winternheimer said. “Because he plays the way he does, if he’s not functionally stable or he has little weakness in his spine, he’s predisposed to have this ­injury, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have it forever.

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