Talking Clayton Kershaw’s Herniated Disc with My Brother the Neurosurgeon

NOTE: By the time I got around to writing up this post, the news about Clayton Kershaw’s injury had taken a sudden turn for the hopeful so I left it to languish as a draft. Now that the news about Clayton has hit the proverbial fan, I’ll go ahead and publish this sucker. What follows is a transcript of a conversation I had with my little brother who happens to be the neurosurgeon in the family.
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Todd and the Brain Surgeon

One of these guys is wearing a tacky t-shirt. The other grew up to be a neurosurgeon.

When it was announced Clayton Kershaw was going on the disabled list with a herniated disc, I fired off a quick text to my brother (he happens to be a neurosurgeon who specializes in spinal work) for some insight and reassurance that everything will be OK.

Because he also happens to be a busy neurosurgeon with three very young kids, I didn’t get a response from him until I finally cornered him at our family’s big 4th of July BBQ up in Northern Wisconsin.

ME: So what’s your thought on Kershaw’s injury?

MY BROTHER THE NEUROSURGEON: What was it again?

ME: A herniated disc. He had an epidural last week.

MBTN: Oooh… that can be a tricky one.

ME: How so?

MBTN: Well, the epidural is only to take care of the pain. It doesn’t actually fix anything. Only rest or surgery can do that. If the hernia is small enough, there’s a chance the body can sometimes dissolve it with rest. The epidural was just to give his body a chance to relax and hopefully attack the hernia.

TROY HERNIATED DISC

My brother and his catch of the day, the largest herniated disc he’s ever removed.

HERNIATED DISC

Look at the size of that thing. (Don’t worry, this hunk of meat is definitely the exception when it comes to herniated discs.)

ME: So is it a good sign that Kershaw had an epidural?

MBTN: No. It’s just the first step but if it was really bad they would have elected to go straight to surgery.

ME: But how do you know when to go for surgery?

MBTN: Either rest takes care of the herniated disc or the pain becomes too much to handle. There really isn’t any middle ground.

ME: But what if you’re an elite athlete? Let’s say you’re the best pitcher in the world, does that make a difference?

MBTN: It can only make a difference in the sense that he’s got a whole training staff on top of things but they’re not going to be able to do anything special for him. The fact that this was a big enough issue for him to go on the DL means I wouldn’t have him even touch a baseball for at least six weeks.

NOTE: In retrospect, this was probably a good idea.

ME: If Kershaw needs surgery, what’s that going to be like?

MBTN: Well, the surgery itself is pretty easy. You cut out the hernia and that’s it. The disc itself stays put and wouldn’t be damaged. It’s the recovery that takes a while.

ME: How long is the recovery?

MBTN: Again, everyone is different but 2017 could be a better year for the Dodgers.

ME: Really?

MBTN: Oh yeah, he wouldn’t throw again for this season for sure.

ME: Dang. Well let’s say Kershaw does need surgery but because he’s a bad ass he chooses not to have it, what could happen?

MBTN: He’d have to fight through a ton off pain and deal with some potential nerve damage but it’s not like he’d wind up paralyzed or anything. Depending on which vertebra  is affected he could still even pitch with nerve damage. It’d just feel like his leg was always asleep but eventually he would need surgery at some point. Then he should be as good as new.

ME: Thanks for the uplifting news I was looking for.

MBTN: Anytime.

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