It may be possible that a team on pace to win 60+ games and enter the postseason as the top overall seed may not be getting enough credit for their success but what the San Antonio Spurs have done this year is nothing short of remarkable. If the team had taken a step backward this season there would have been plenty of suitable excuses including a Finals hangover, an aging core, and a plethora of injuries. Instead they have rebounded from their devastating defeat, a 37-year old Tim Duncan has excelled, and the team has maintained their amazing win percentage despite missing nearly 100 games to injury and plenty of more days off to rest.
Now with the playoffs on the horizon the team is once again faced with a new injury, a back ailment to point guard Tony Parker. Parker left Sunday’s win over Memphis with back spasms and a subsequent MRI revealed a sprained facet joint on the left side of his spine. While the joint is small and relatively unknown it’s a common component of lower back injuries.
The facet joints are formed between two vertebrae in the back. The lower articular process of one vertebra rests into the superior articular process of the vertebra directly below it creating the segmental joint. A capsule of connective tissue reinforced by ligaments surrounds each joint to provide additional stability. The facet joints of the lower back aren’t as mobile as other area of the spine but they do play a role in forward and backward bending and, to a lesser extent, rotation and side-bending. However it should be noted the facets are crucial to load bearing through the lumbar spine and help resist compressive forces in the area. Consequently it is important to the future of Parker’s long-term health that he makes a complete recovery to avoid more serious complications like nerve or disc issues.
Like any other ligament in the body, the ligaments of the facet joint can be sprained if pushed past their yield point. When this occurs, the affected individual experiences pain as well as back spasms when the neighboring muscles stiffen to guard the area. As a result the injured athlete enters the vicious pain-spasm cycle. Spasms lead to an increase in pain that in turn leads to more tension. Tension causes more spasms and the cycle continues until the root of the problem is properly treated.
Fortunately like most sprains, facet injuries can heal without surgical intervention. Managing the spasms and treating the sprain will be the keys to Parker’s recovery. Rehab will focus on balancing exercises to maintain mobility and necessary rest. Anti-inflammatory medication can be utilized to help treat the inflammation. If all goes well Parker could be able to return in 7-to-10 days with a two to three-week window a more conservative option. Given that the postseason is roughly 14 days away, Parker will be cutting things close to be ready for Round 1.
The Spurs medical staff has excelled at managing injuries when they occur and it’s safe to suspect they will do the same with their All-Star point guard. However with the postseason fast approaching they may have to decide between a rushed recovery or a rusty Parker. The decision could be the difference between another shot at a title or another disappointing end.