Lost in the shuffle of Eric Wood’s bizarre press conference on Monday was the information he shared forcing him into retirement – a bulging cervical (neck) disc at the junction between his second and third vertebra. However, the announcement of his retirement was overshadowed by being 50 minutes late for the conference and a hasty statement made by Wood without taking questions from the media.
While speculation is rampant regarding the mysterious way the press conference was handled, I’d like to take a few moments and focus on the actual content of his message – retirement was the only option because of a bulging disc in his neck at the junction of his second and third cervical vertebra.
Why would this condition force Wood into retirement?
Wood reported that his MRI showed a large bulging disc at the C2-3 level of his cervical spine. As the spinal cord exits the brain, it is a thick bundle full of nerves that exit to various parts of the body allowing movement and sensation.
The higher up on the cervical spine (the closer to the brain) injury/degeneration occurs, the more dangerous the bulging discs become in terms of catastrophic injury. A bulging disc may eventually rupture and in Mr. Wood’s case could be life threatening if it came in the form of a NFL-caliber blow to the neck. Hence the reason to hang up the cleats.
If Wood were in a less physically risky occupation, the danger of paralysis is minimal. Surgery can be performed if his symptoms (pain, tingling, numbness, loss of muscle strength) persist. However, surgery to repair a ruptured or bulging disc carries its own set of complications and there are other issues to consider.
If trauma was the only reason the disc bulged, surgical repair could be successful. However, if Wood also has a condition called degenerative disc disease, all bets are off.
Degenerative disc disease is a progressive condition, meaning at this time medical intervention cannot stop the progression of the disease even after surgery and/or other treatment. It is thought to be hereditary but there is much more to learn about why it happens in some individuals.
The bottom line is that Mr. Wood should be able to live a relatively normal life with or without surgery. Bulging or ruptured discs are not an uncommon occurrence, as many people reading this can attest.
However, most people don’t play football in the NFL.
While surgery may be the right answer for some, it’s not a cut and dry decision. If degenerative disc disease is present as well as a bulging or ruptured disc, there is a greater likelihood of failure and complications down the road.
Surgery doesn’t always fix the problem – and for some, it can actually make it worse – so it’s wise to try the most conservative measures first. Physical therapy outlining a specific treatment plan (yoga, stretching, weight and cardiovascular training,) as well as avoiding activities that aggravate the condition can help many people avoid the knife.
Whatever the reason for the strange set of circumstances yesterday at Wood’s press conference, there’s no question about the medical information he provided. He clearly outlined what happened from a medical perspective and is wise to take his time in making the best treatment decision possible to maximize his quality of life in the future.
Editor’s babble: Like every Bills fan, my heart sunk with the news about Eric Wood’s sudden retirement. However, when I found out why, it sunk even further because I had emergency surgery for a ruptured cervical disc in 1997. His road whether he has surgery or not will be filled with good days and bad days. What will sustain his quality of life is his loving nature and compassionate soul. We are blessed to have enjoyed watching Eric Wood play football. Now we will support him and his family as he moves forward with the next chapter in his life.
You can find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.
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