Reggie Bullock – What neck injury made him lose money in Free Agency?

The newly signed New York Knick underwent surgery on Wednesday 17th of July for treatment of a cervical disk herniation. He is out indefinitely and the team will provide an update at the start of training camp in late September (ESPN).

The pathology was detected during Bullock’s physical exam at New York which caused the team to rework his deal from a two-year, $21 million deal to a two-year, $8.2 million dollar agreement. No timeline has been provided so far but I’ll explain when we can expect to see him for the first time in the Knicks uniform.

Cervical disc herniation (CDH) is a frequently occurring condition in the general population that causes neck or arm pain. Neural symptoms can also be present due to compression of a nerve root (radiculopathy) or the spinal cord (myelopathy) from an intervertebral disc.

The intervertebral discs are essential structures within the vertebral column which allow motion to occur between vertebrae and transfer loads. There are minor differences between the discs from the cervical spine (neck) down to the lumbar spine (lower back) but both are able to herniate or bulge – this means part of the disc pushes through onto other structures of the spine. It’s possible for this condition to be asymptomatic but physiotherapy should be trialled if symptoms arise.

In most cases, CDH resolves with conservative treatment. There are multiple factors to consider when making the decision for surgery but ineffective conservative management, sudden neurological deficits or compression onto the spinal cord are some indications for surgical treatment which may have caused Bullock and the Knicks to take this route. Anterior cervical discectomy is the likely procedure performed – check out the video below for what it involves.

In a case-study examining return-to-play in professional athletes from the NBA, NFL and other American sports leagues, 80% of players returned to sport at approximately 9 months. This likely reduced time-off would have likely been the major factor in determining the modified contract agreement for Bullock.

Not many NBA athletes have undergone surgical treatment for CDH. Emeka Okafor is one example who was diagnosed with a herniated C4 disc in September 2013 and elected for conservative management. He experienced many complications and wasn’t medically cleared to play until four years later! Hopefully, Reggie comes back a lot sooner – looking at the evidence, a likely return would be in April 2020 but don’t be surprised if it takes longer.

Sources:
1. Watkins IV et al., 2018. Return to Play after Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion in Professional Athletes. OJSM
2. Corniola et al., 2015. Cervical disc herniation – diagnosis and treatment. RMS

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