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It may be the most watched neck since Marie Antionette's. It's also the most guarded secret since the discovery of the Hope Diamond. According to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears and the National Football League are keeping a lid of secrecy on this thing that would make Bill Belichick proud.
None of the handful of medical professionals in the Chicago area and beyond contacted by the Tribune wanted to comment specifically about Urlacher. But the information shared by various doctors with specialties in spine and neck surgery narrowed the potential range of problems, given the Bears' expectation that Urlacher will recover by the time training camp opens in July in Bourbonnais, Ill. It is unlikely Urlacher could have had a spinal fusion to merge two or more vertebrae, for instance, without facing a longer recovery time. Such injuries typically are considered more serious and have been known to cost NFL players entire seasons. The procedure also probably didn't involve a change in alignment of Urlacher's cervical spine — the neck region — because that also would have been more invasive and required more time off.
Considering the optimistic prognosis, most of the doctors found the recovery time consistent with that of patients who had had surgery for a herniated disc or a pinched nerve. Each spinal disc is surrounded by a group of highly sensitive nerves. If the inner portion of the disc containing inflammatory proteins leaks and touches those nerves, it can cause pain and require surgery. A source said Urlacher had experienced discomfort before the surgery. Several of the physicians, who stressed they had no knowledge of Urlacher's case, also referred to an operation known as a foraminotomy. That procedure relieves pressure on nerves that are being compressed by the passages through the bones to the vertebrae. Typically, a foraminotomy involves making an incision on the back of the neck, peeling away the muscle to reveal the bone and cutting a small hole into the vertebra. Through that hole, the impinging bone or disc material is removed. The procedure is considered minimally invasive.
Urlacher's condition also wasn't necessarily caused by a specific injury or event. But in most cases involving herniated discs, it is either a degenerative condition or one caused by age or wear and tear, which would be understandable in the case of an NFL linebacker. The one thing every doctor agreed on: The Bears would not expect Urlacher back for training camp if they didn't have sound medical history on which to base their optimism. As one doctor put it, "It's plausible he might come back even stronger."
And he COULD be a big pain in the neck to NFL QB's.