Fans hear the words neck fusion and wonder why Peyton Manning is even considering playing again, fearful hell risk a career-ending injury or worse the next time he takes a hit.
But safety isnt Mannings issue, several spine specialists said. Arm strength is.
Mannings surgically repaired neck will be able to take a hit just fine once the fusion is healed, with the bone actually stronger than others in his neck. Nerves are delicate, however, and only time will tell if theyll recover enough for the 35-year-old four-time NFL MVP to be the quarterback he once was.
His risk really is very low, said Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., who has worked with NHL star Sidney Crosby and whose DISC Sports & Spine Center provides medical services for the U.S. Olympic team.
If I was a team, Id ask, Did (the fusion) heal? Do you have a CAT scan that showed it healed? Is the rest of neck in pretty good shape? Bray asked. If those two answers are yes, then it gets down to, OK, get out on the field, and show me you can perform, because it will only get better from here with time.
Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his right arm and required multiple neck surgeries, including a single-level fusion in September. He has brushed off questions about retirement, insisting that after parting ways with the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday he wants to play.
In the field of spine surgery and professional athletes, we have a fairly strong consensus that if you have a one-level cervical fusion, you can recover and go back and safely play, said Dr. William Tobler, a neurosurgeon at the Mayfield Clinic in Cincinnati who has done four fusions on NFL players, all of whom returned to the field.
Manning said Wednesday he is not completely recovered but insisted hes closer than ever.
Im throwing it pretty well. I still have some progress to make, but Ive come a long way, Manning said.