By Abby Sims
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New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is scheduled to undergo back surgery on Tuesday to address chronic back pain. It will be his seventh surgery, and the second to his back — the first having been a microdiscectomy performed in 2009 while he was a student at Arizona. This procedure is generally performed to decompress a nerve in the lower back in order to relieve nerve pain that radiates to one or both of the lower extremities.
The specific nature of Tuesday’s procedure has not been disclosed, though Brett Logiurato of SI.com reported that a recent MRI revealed damage to a disc other than the already-injured one that had supposedly caused Gronkowski’s distress last season.
Gronkowski underwent his first surgery as a pro in 2010. It was an arthroscopic procedure to repair ligaments torn when he sustained a left high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship game in 2012. A high ankle sprain is a tear — graded from 1 (minimal) to 3 (a complete rupture) — of the ligaments that connect the bones of the lower leg just above the ankle joint. Naturally, Gronkowski played in the Super Bowl anyway — though at limited capacity — despite the injury occurring two weeks prior. Only he and his inner circle know if he might have avoided surgery had he remained off the field and party circuit.
More recently, Gronkowski underwent a series of four procedures to address his twice-fractured left forearm, and the infection that was discovered to be impeding his recovery after the second surgery. After the initial fracture and surgery, Gronkowski missed only five games before re-fracturing the arm, though reportedly in a different place; this time it was at the end of the plate that had been inserted to stabilize the original fracture. His second forearm surgery took place on January 14, and the third surgery was in late February to address the subsequent infection. The most recent procedure, performed on May 21st, was to remove the hardware that had been installed. Each time, his recovery began anew. The good news was that Gronkowski’s infection had finally been pronounced cured. Now, on to the next surgery…
Speculation as to when Gronkowski is likely to make his 2013 debut has varied widely. Realistically speaking, it would be unwise to rush his back rehab to the point that he is participating in football activities before three months time, even if he is progressing without complications.
For normal humans that timetable would be even more extended. Significantly. This means that the tight end would not be competing before the four-month mark, though a more accelerated scenario would not surprise me. It just doesn’t seem worth the risk to rush him back out there only to regret it later because his pain returns or he suffers another injury.
The Patriots aren’t big on sharing details, so real assessments of Gronkowski’s post-op progress will likely remain a mystery until he is back on the field. His initial time off to allow his body to heal naturally — as well as the resolution of all symptoms — will guide the nature of that progress, ultimately setting the stage for his return.
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