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Steve Kerr, Back Surgery and Lessons Learned

The NBA Finals will soon begin underway, with the Golden State Warriors battling last year’s champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers. All-Stars Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have led their team so far this season, but one member of the Warriors family is conspicuously absent – Steve Kerr. The six-time former NBA champ became the first rookie coach to win a championship in decades when the Warriors took the Finals in 2015, but it’s not him they look to on the sidelines now. Instead, it’s acting head coach Mike Brown.

In the summer of 2015, Kerr underwent surgery for a ruptured disc in his back. During the surgery, the protective coating around his spinal cord was nicked, causing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to leak. According to Dr. Forgey, this is a unique case, and leaking CSF can cause severe headaches and pain that little can relieve. A second surgery could not fix the problem, and for Kerr, the results have been utterly devastating.

Instead of coaching a championship team, Kerr suffers from unimaginable pain and the frustration of trying to fix it. He’s tried herbal treatments, opioids, meditation and even medical marijuana, but nothing helps. What started off as something comparable to a migraine or sinus infection has ballooned into torment for the coach, who know cautions others against surgery, instead pushing “rehab, rehab, rehab.”

The problem that started it all for Kerr — a herniated disc — is quite common. Dr. Forgey even maintains that many people have herniated discs and don’t even know it. The problem occurs when one of the rubbery discs between the bones of the spine pushes out of its case through a tear in its tough exterior. Pain comes when the disc irritates nearby nerves.

In most cases, “chiropractic can help” a patient with a herniated disc, says Dr. Forgey. “Adjustment pulls the disc back off of the nerve. The only time surgery would be warranted would be if the disc actually broke and a piece of it sticks on the nerve itself or bulges out and smashes the nerve. When that occurs, surgery has to happen.”

According to Dr. Forgey, chiropractic can help in 80% of cases, and can even help patients following back surgery. “We’ve had people come in post-surgery and been able to offer them relief, but Kerr’s is a unique case,” says Dr. Forgey. His pain now is caused not by the original herniated disc, but instead by the leaking of CSF.

There are two lessons to be learned from Kerr’s case: First is that patients must be very, very careful before pursuing back surgery. It should be a last resort only after all other options have been exhausted, including chiropractic and physical therapy. Second, all people should do daily stretching and work towards having good body mechanics. While a herniated disc cannot necessarily be prevented, taking care of your back is essential to good health. Making small adjustments to the ways you move can have a tremendous impact. For example, Dr. Forgey warns against bending over the sink while brushing your teeth, a posture common in bathrooms around the country. Instead, he recommends opening the cabinet door up and placing your foot on the kick plate inside so you can lean in further while brushing without putting strain on your back. Making these small adjustments can have a huge impact on your health.

There is no cure for leaking CSF, but for some people, the pain subsides in a few months. For others, the pain never goes away. Only time will tell what happens to Steve Kerr.