San Francisco 49ers fear that cervical spine injury will sideline Eric Heitmann again

Jul 5 2011
Athletic activity has taken a toll on another player in recent weeks, as sports commentators have speculated that San Francisco 49ers' Eric Heitmann may miss his second consecutive season to neck pain.

The 31-year-old center is undergoing rehabilitation in Texas following a recent surgery for a ruptured neck disc, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area website.

Heitman's agent Kenny Zuckerman said that the player had felt a tingling in his neck, but that this sensation had subsided since the surgery some five weeks ago.

"The bottom line is that he feels much better, and the pain has dissipated," he said, quoted by the news source.

However, doubts persist about Heitman's ability to play any time soon, given that normal recovery time after this type of surgery takes about six months.

Heitman entered the NFL in 2002, and has experienced a series of health setbacks in recent years. In 2010, he broke his left leg during training camp and had a neck contusion that landed him on injured reserve in November.

The National Institutes of Health explains that a ruptured or herniated disc occurs when part of a spinal disk extends outside of the structure through a weakened part of the disc. This causes pressure on nearby nerves, resulting in burning, dull or pulsating pain, discomfort and a sensation of tingling that may travel down and be felt in extremities. It is then known as sciatica. The condition most often strikes middle-aged and older men, especially those involved in strenuous physical activity.

The health agency specifies that surgery is the last option and should only be considered for individuals whose symptoms do not improve after conservative treatments. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and narcotic painkillers - the latter applied chiefly in cases of sudden injury. Steroid injections are also often used for relief of sciatica-related pain and may be effective for several months. Finally, lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet - especially important in the case of overweight individuals - have been shown to bring satisfactory results.