If you’re a basketball fan, you probably know that Cleveland Cavaliers forward and NBA mega-star LeBron James had to miss his team’s final two preseason games following a “precautionary” anti-inflammatory injection for back pain. With few details having been revealed, questions are circulating about how serious LeBron’s condition might be, why an injection would be used to treat it – and of course, whether the star player will be fully healthy for the Cavaliers’ Oct. 27 season opener against the Chicago Bulls. Here’s what we can tell you.
Injections are a nonsurgical and frequently effective means of reducing back pain associated with an inflammatory condition.
While we don’t know the precise injury that LeBron is facing, we do know that he has had problems with back pain on and off throughout the past 10 years, and that the last time he received injections was in January for a lower back issue. The most common types of injections used for treating back conditions are epidural injections and facet injections, and LeBron may have been treated with either of these.
Epidural injections are often used to address a pinched or inflamed nerve, which can cause shooting pains down the legs in a condition known as sciatica, and to reduce inflammation in the back associated with a herniated lumbar disk,spinal stenosis or degenerative disk disease – none of which are uncommon in veteran pro basketball players.
At the same time, facet injections are often used to treat patients who are experiencing chronic pain due toarthritic conditions of the lumbar (lower), thoracic (middle) and cervical (upper) spine as well as various back injuries and mechanical stresses. Facet injections direct a local anesthetic and anti-inflammatory corticosteroid medication into the facet joints that connect one or more of the spine’s vertebrae.
A third type of injection therapy is sacroiliac joint injections, which are similar to facet joint injections except for the fact that they are placed in the joint between the sacrum and pelvis. Read more about the different forms of joint injections here.
The injection that LeBron received was just one part of his comprehensive treatment plan.
Injections are not meant to cure an inflammatory condition, but rather to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with it so that the patient can undergo rehabilitation aimed at strengthening their muscles, improving flexibility and otherwise reducing their chances of reinjuring their back the next time they are fully active. As such, injections are almost always employed in combination with a comprehensive rehabilitation program in order to achieve the most effective and long-lasting results. So LeBron’s treatment now and in the past may have included other elements in addition to injections, including physical therapy as well as special stretches, yoga exercises and weight loss.
Are you a candidate for injection therapy? For a quick explanation of when you should see a doctor for back pain, visit the SpineU video library.
On average, patients undergoing injection therapy will notice significant pain relief within seven days of their procedure.
While the numbing agent that is employed at the time of the injection will provide immediate, short-term pain relief, the steroid itself can take several days to start working. Depending on the patient, the pain-relieving effects of an epidural injection may last for a month or more. If significant pain returns, another injection may be provided, with no more than three epidural injections administered in any six-month period. Facet injections may also provide short-lasting pain relief for several days to several months. Those who continue to suffer back pain following one or more injections may be candidates for spine surgery.
LeBron’s short time off the court was probably just precautionary.
Understanding that the goal of injections for a star athlete like LeBron is to allow him to return to his peak performance level as quickly and safely as possible, it made sense for him to sit out the final exhibition games before the official season started. That said, the injection he received did not preclude him from being active as soon as the day following his procedure, so it’s feasible that he could come off the bench for practice before October 27. And since the player, his coach and his doctors have yet to mention any specific or serious underlying back injury, we expect LeBron to return as strong as ever if and when that happens.
At the Spine Health Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla., Dr. Chetan Patel and his team of spine specialists provide injection therapy as a minimally invasive method for achieving long-lasting pain relief caused by a variety of spinal conditions, and also for certain diagnostic purposes. This conservative treatment option is offered in conjunction with a comprehensive rehabilitation program. For more information, contact our Patient Care Coordinator at Call407-303-5452 or by clicking on the “Book Online” button at the top of this page.
LeBron James will reportedly miss the rest of the exhibition season with back woes (10/16/2015). Retrieved from Yahoo! Sports: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/lebron-james-will-reportedly-miss-the-rest-of-the-exhibition-season-with-back-woes-193400445.html
LeBron James gets injection in back, likely to miss rest of preseason (10/16/2015). Retrieved from ESPN: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/13900442/cleveland-cavaliers-lebron-james-gets-injection-back-likely-miss-rest-preseason
Spinal Injections (n.d.). Retrieved from OrthoInfo.com: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00560
Epidural Injection (n.d.). Retrieved from MedCentral.org: http://www.medcentral.org/Main/EpiduralInjection.aspx
Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Facet Joint Injections (n.d.). Retrieved from Spine-health.com: http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/injections/cervical-thoracic-and-lumbar-facet-joint-injections