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Chicago Bulls Player Mike Dunleavy Is Latest Top Athlete to Undergo Lumbar Microdiscectomy

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Chicago Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy now has something in common with legendary golfer Tiger Woods. Both pro athletes have undergone lumbar microdiscectomy procedures over the past few weeks, and both now face questions about how soon they can return to play. Each man had the operation in order to relieve lower back pain caused by pressure that was being put on a spinal nerve from (most likely in Dunleavy’s case, and definitely in Tiger’s) part of a bulging or herniated disk. And both join a long list of other top sports figures who’ve experienced similar disk herniations: hockey great Mario Lemeiux, quarterback Philip Rivers and NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, to name a few. So what’s the connection?

Read our take on Tiger’s microdiscectomy here.

One might think that professional sports like basketball, golf, hockey and football involve such different movements and athletic skills that each would have a fairly unique set of typical injuries. Yet, the fact is that herniated disks – particularly in the lumbar region – are a fairly common occurrence in professional athletes across the board.

Lumbar injuries in athletes

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not suggesting that disk herniations are the most common type of injury in pro sports; fortunately, the spine is a bit more insulated from trauma than the knees, ankles, feet, hips and shoulders appear to be.

What we are saying is that the excessive weight and stress that the spine of a pro athlete endures from all kinds of repetitive twisting, bending, jumping and other movements can increase the pro’s likelihood of damaging an intervertebral disk – which in turn may cause that disk to rupture (or herniate). And when that happens, the location most likely to be affected is the lumbar region, because that’s where the greatest amount of weight, pressure and rotational stress is typically exerted both in daily activities and high-impact sports.

Athletes who experience a herniated disk may complain of sciatic pain that shoots down their hips, buttocks and legs. Mike Dunleavy reportedly experienced some “recent worsening” of “back discomfort” that had started over the summer, while Tiger had complained primarily of hip pain. In both cases, conservative treatments had failed to resolve the athletes’ symptoms, and each chose to have a microdiscectomy as soon as possible in order to begin rehabbing their injury right away.

Tiger vs. Mike – Who will come back strong?

While Tiger is definitely out for the rest of the year and probably won’t be seen in a pro tournament before February of 2016, some have speculated that Mike Dunleavy could be back on the boards in as little as eight weeks. It’s true that Dunleavy, at 35, is half a decade younger than Tiger, and also that this was only his first microdiscectomy; Tiger’s was his second such operation in just 18 months.

But Dunleavy may be taking a cue from Tiger’s experience, wherein further degeneration of the golfer’s damaged disk resulted in a repeat of his previous surgery after a fairly quick return to competitive play. Responding to questions about just how soon he might be suiting up for another game, Dunleavy told reporters this week that he’s simply not going to rush his recovery.

“There is an issue with recurrence with these types of things,” he said, “So it’s just all about being safe about it, taking the proper steps, and hopefully being back sooner than later.”

Considering the pounding that a star basketball player puts on his spine, that sounds like a wise course of action – regardless of how many games he may miss in the meantime.

You don’t have to be a star athlete to experience a herniated disk or other spine problem that causes persistent pain in your back, neck, arms or legs. You also don’t have to be a pro to be evaluated by one of the top spine specialists in the field. Dr. Chetan Patel and his team at the Spine Health Institute can identify what’s causing your discomfort and provide a variety of conservative to advanced treatment options. Call our patient care coordinator at Call407-303-5452, or click on the “Book Online” button at the top of this page.


Dunleavy (back) not putting timetable on return (9/28/2015). Retrieved from

Low Back Pain in Athletes (n.d.). Retrieved from

Basketball and Herniated Discs (n.d.). Retrieved from

Basketball Injuries (n.d.). Retrieved from

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