Crosby diagnosed with tissue injury to upper neck
Sidney Crosby talks about his injury Tuesday, with Penguins' general manager Ray Shero behind him at Consol Energy Center.
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Sidney Crosby was reluctant to share stories with his teammates about his weekend. While they had several days off or played in the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa, the Penguins captain was again addressing the health issues that have troubled him the past 13 months.
"Basically, my break was spent in doctors' offices and MRI machines, stuff like that," Mr. Crosby said Tuesday. "I didn't have an exciting break, but some of the guys did, so it was more talking about that."
Mr. Crosby had news to share, though, potentially important news. After consulting with spinal trauma expert Alexander Vaccaro and others in his growing medical team, he learned that he has a soft-tissue injury in his upper neck.
Not a broken neck, past or present.
Maybe not even a concussion anymore.
It's possible his latest symptoms -- trouble with motion and balance -- are caused by the neck injury and not a lingering or new brain injury.
"I hope so," Mr. Crosby said. "I think the biggest thing to take from it is that [the neck injury] is something I can work on. There's a pretty big possibility that it could be causing some of the issues.
"I really hope that's the case and hope that with some treatment it will improve and that's, hopefully, the end of it."
Mr. Crosby continues to skate separately from team practice and won't be cleared to play until his symptoms subside, which is the same course of action regardless of whether those symptoms stem from the neck injury or a concussion.
He spent last week in Los Angeles being treated and tested by Robert S. Bray, a neurosurgeon who specializes in the spine. Dr. Bray gave Mr. Crosby an injection in his neck near the C1 and C2 vertebrae to help reduce swelling, something Mr. Crosby said he hopes to replace with other treatments going forward.
Dr. Bray recommended that an independent expert read Mr. Crosby's MRI and CAT scan, and the Penguins turned the past few days to Dr. Vaccaro, who is co-director of the Spinal Cord Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
On Monday, Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, Penguins CEO David Morehouse and Mr. Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, met with Dr. Vaccaro. Then there was a conference call that also involved other Penguins officials and other members of Mr. Crosby's medical team.
"Once we did that, we felt very good at the end of the conversation as to where we were," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "We had other conversations at other points [Tuesday] to make sure we understood each other -- no evidence of past or present fracture."
Mr. Crosby, 24, has been dealing with these health issues since he got knocked violently on a hit by David Steckel, then of Washington, in the outdoor Winter Classic Jan. 1, 2011. He said then he had a sore neck but no concussion symptoms.
He played four nights later against Tampa Bay and got hit from behind into the glass by the Lightning's Victor Hedman. Mr. Crosby traveled with the team to Montreal after that game but the next morning, based on how he felt, returned to Pittsburgh. That day, he was diagnosed with a concussion.
There was some speculation over the past few days that Mr. Crosby had sustained a broken neck on one of those two plays.
Over the ensuing few months, Mr. Crosby went through a progression from light workouts to skating to practice before he had a setback in April.
During the summer, Mr. Crosby had ebbs and flows. In August, he spent time with Ted Carrick, a chiropractic neurologist. By the start of training camp in September, Mr. Crosby was cleared to practice without hitting. A month later, he was cleared for contact.
He resumed playing Nov. 21 to great fanfare and had two goals and two assists in a 5-0 win at home against the New York Islanders. Mr. Crosby played in the next seven games, getting eight more assists, before he again left the lineup because of recurring symptoms that he described as headaches and more problems with motion. He passed an imPACT concussion test at that point.
Penguins team physician Charles Burke has the final say in whether Mr. Crosby can work out, practice or play. He has worked from the beginning with Mickey Collins, a concussion specialist with UPMC. More recently, UPMC neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon joined Mr. Crosby's medical team. He also met in Utah with physical therapist Alex Guerrero two weeks ago.
Mr. Crosby said he is happy with the medical care he has gotten, and Mr. Shero deflected criticism that has been leveled at the team's medical personnel for perhaps not diagnosing Mr. Crosby correctly or quickly enough.
"Every player that we've had is encouraged to get a second or third opinion on any injury that they had," Mr. Shero said. "One of the things to make clear is ... we're in constant contact with Sidney and the doctors. Everything goes through our medical team after he sees these other consultants.
"We're all in this together, and the one thing we're trying to find out is what's causing these symptoms, how we can get him back safely to play."
Although not symptom-free, Mr. Crosby was given the OK to begin skating again Jan. 13 and has done so regularly since, including Tuesday morning.
"It's been pretty good," he said. "Still dealing with some symptoms, but I feel much better than I did a couple weeks ago skating. The motion stuff seems to be much better. I'm happy with that. I'm still not where I want to be. It's encouraging to be skating."
First Published February 1, 2012 12:00 am