Hey WCG readers. I'm a 4th year medical student interested in sports medicine. This Teven Jenkin back injury/surgery seems to be super polarizing. There's a lot of comparisons to Chris Williams or even Kevin White. On the other side, you have GM Ryan Pace telling everyone that Teven's completely cured. That got me thinking, is there any medical data out there for elite athletes that might be able to give an idea into how Teven might do. Now, I've got to throw in a disclaimer. Do not construe this article as medical advice. Back pain is a pretty common complaint, and each case can be different. My search was limited to athletes, so I do not recommend applying your case to this article. I also am not affiliated with the Chicago Bears or their medical system. This article was solely written based on publicly available information. I do not have access to Teven Jenkin's medical records, so this is just a guess. Lastly, this article does not reflect the opinions of any of the organizations I am affiliated with to include Georgetown School of Medicine and the US Navy/DoD. That being said, let me tell you about some of the things I've found.
I did a quick search on PubMed (medical database for journal articles) focusing specifically on athletes, lumbar spine, and lineman. Based on Ryan Pace's press conference (which may or may not be reliable) and reporting out there on the beat, it sounds like it was a nerve issue. Pace talked specifically about pain shooting down the leg which is classic for nerve compression such as sciatica or a herniated disc. Since Jenkin's got back surgery, it seems to be more likely to be something like a herniated disc.
In a 2011 article in the Spine Journal, 342 professional athletes across 4 major North American sports from 1972 to 2008 with lumbar disc herniation were looked at. 226 players underwent surgery and 116 were treated non-surgically. 82% of those 342 athletes returned to their respective sports. 62.3% of them continued to play in their sports 2 years after their diagnosis. Seems like good news so far! They also found that the younger you are, the more likely you will have a longer career. Another bonus for Teven. They also found specifically for NFL athletes, they had worse return to play rates than other sports, but surgery helps to prolong their careers. (Hsu, et al) Now this article is not the end all be all for spine surgery. There's a lot of variation in this patient group. Medicine has changed a lot from 1972 to 2008 to even now. Also, of the 342 professional athletes, 138 of them were NFL players. This study did not stratify by position. Theoretically, the outcomes of back surgery on a lineman vs a wide receiver could differ which leads me to another article.
Another article in 2011 done at Northwestern looked at 66 lineman (defensive and offensive) who were diagnosed with lumbar disc herniation. Out of the 66 players, 52 of them underwent surgery. 80.8% of those who underwent surgery returned to play with an average of 33 games over 3 years. 63.5% of the surgery group became starters after treatment. 7 players had to go under revision surgery, but only 1 did not return to play. Unfortunately, 6 of the 7 who had to have revision were offensive lineman. It is theorized that the technique required by O-lineman stresses their back more. Only 4 of the other 14 players who did not go under the knife (28.6%) returned to play. Pretty significant difference there. However, there are a lot of other factors such as other comorbidities, age, or could not have surgery for other reasons. (Weistroffer, et al) The sample size is not large, but there's already a limited sample size given the vagueness of NFL medical reports and the 0.1% of the population that actually plays in the NFL. I wouldn't worry too much about the 3 year and 33 game. Some might point out that Teven would be a bust playing only 33 games over his career. However, there are tons of different factors here too. We don't know who these players are. Do they have Teven's 2nd round draft pedigree (with a 1st round grade)? These players might have been in the back half of their careers, and it was easier to retire than risk surgery. We don't know their individual circumstances but an 80.8% return to play and 63.5% starting rate is solid enough for me.
I definitely think the sample sizes amongst these two articles have their limitations. However, given our limitations, I do think it paints a positive outlook on Teven's future with the Bears. I think there's enough data here to have some cautious optimism that Teven will be fine. I wouldn't jump to conclusion and compare Tevin's career with Chris Williams just yet. We're all looking to 2022 when the savior Justin Fields takes over full time anyways. Let's give Teven the opportunity to recover and show what he's got. I hope you all enjoyed this type of breakdown. I always appreciate feedback. Let me know if this is interesting content and if I should look into other injuries in the comment section. Bear down fellow fans. Beat the Rams.
1. Hsu, WK., McCarthy, KJ., Savage, JW., et al. The Professional Athlete Spine Initiative: outcomes after lumbar disc herniation in 342 elite professional athletes. 2011;11(3):180-186. doi:10.1016/j.spinee.2010.12.009
2. Weistroffer JK, Hsu WK. Return-to-Play Rates in National Football League Linemen After Treatment for Lumbar Disk Herniation. 2011;39(3):632-636. doi:10.1177/0363546510388901