Finding the Silver Lining in NBA All-Star's Season Ending Back Injury
Inspiration for Chronic Back Pain Sufferers
Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash announced recently that he will miss the entire NBA season as a result of an ongoing back injury. The two-time MVP and future Hall-of-Famer was set to begin his 19th NBA season, but a series of injuries has plagued the 40-year-old player since he came to the Lakers two years ago; and despite months of rehabilitation efforts, one wrong twist of the back a few weeks ago put him out of the game – possibly forever. Many fans are heartbroken at this latest turn of events, but if you understand Nash’s background, it’s not hard to find a silver lining. This athlete created one of the longest and most successful careers in NBA history while living with a back condition that could have easily kept him on the bench. Patients who suffer from back pain as Nash does can find inspiration in his story.
Steve Nash suffers from spondylolisthesis, a condition where one bone in the spine slides forward over the bone below it, usually in the lower back. Though the injury can create severe pain, Nash didn’t let it become a barrier to his success. Instead, with the help of an experienced physician, he developed a training plan to accommodate his areas of weakness and strengthen his natural abilities. Simply put, he worked smarter, not harder.
Patients who suffer from spondylolisthesis can learn a thing or two from Nash’s training regimen. For starters, unlike his peers in the industry, he couldn’t afford to rest for long in the off season. Keeping his body consistently active played a large part in maintaining his strength and stamina over the years. That lesson can be applied to many people with spondylolisthesis: daily movement and stretching as prescribed by your physician or physical therapist are two of the best things you can do to manage pain and increase mobility.
Another simple tip? Rather than sitting on the bench when he wasn’t in the game, Nash was known for lying on his back during games to keep his muscles loose. Now this isn’t to suggest you lie down on the job, but if you work in an environment where you sit for hours at a time, it’s important to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes to help prevent your muscles from getting stiff.
Finally, Nash focused heavily on building his core strength and balance to help with coordination and limit the strain on his back. He recognized he didn’t need to be strong for the sake of making power moves or crowd-pleasing dunks. Instead, he re-learned how to run, jump, pass and hone other game-playing techniques that prevented further injury and made him a two-time league MVP. If you are concerned that spondylolisthesis will slow you down, take a play from Nash’s book and work with your physician to develop a regimen that fits your needs, whether you’re an athlete or simply just want to play with your kids. You may need to try different techniques, but it’s worth it. After all, the goal is to create a life that is less limited by pain.
What about surgery? Will Nash likely need it? That mostly depends on how limited his everyday life is by the effects of the spondylolisthesis condition over time. Because it is something he has suffered with for years, not months, spinal fusion surgery may be indicated for him at some point. The good news is that one-level spinal fusion for spondylolisthesis keeps the spine functionally the same. Most patients experience significant pain relief and do not notice a lasting negative effect on their range of motion after surgery. But it is still surgery and comes with risks, like every surgery does. Careful consideration and consulting a spine surgeon with significant experience are important factors when weighing spondylolisthesis treatment options.
The moral of the story here is that we should not dwell on Steve Nash’s last few years in the league. Yes, one injury led to another injury, and eventually, his body said no more. But if you look at the totality of his career, the man played an amazing 18-plus years in a profession that sees players come and go in less than half that time. ESPN named him the ninth-greatest point guard of all time, and the list of his chart-topping stats for free-throws, three-point shots and assists makes it undeniable that he will be seen as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Nash took a disability and made it work for him. And though we likely won’t see him on the professional court again, the care he shows his body means he can probably still play a quick pick-up game for years to come. His story offers hope for all who live with spondylolisthesis, and that’s something to cheer about.