Ripken decides against surgery Third baseman says disk problem in back is on the mend

November 01, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken's summer of discomfort won't become his winter of surgery.

The Orioles third baseman said yesterday that he has decided against undergoing back surgery to alleviate a herniated disk that caused him two months of sometimes excruciating discomfort last season.

Nerve damage that at times caused him so much pain that he found it impossible to sit on a bench during games or to gain meaningful sleep for stretches of days has eased, Ripken said. Atrophied muscles in his left leg have begun to recover and his range of motion is near normal.

"Even though I still have some compression of the nerve, everyone is of the opinion it will continue to heal and everything will be fine," Ripken said.

Ripken said he had devoted the two weeks since the Orioles' elimination from the American League Championship Series to researching his condition. Though he refused to cite the doctors he consulted, Ripken said he was convinced by "a couple very good opinions very consistent opinions."

Ripken referred to his condition as "a small herniated disk" that has steadily improved in the past seven weeks.

He says he still is experiencing some compression of a nerve, which causes occasional discomfort and numbness in his left leg. However, Ripken says he has recovered significant range of motion in the past three to four weeks. Since the playoff loss, Ripken has put off his usual postseason regimen, but he now plans to "resume a normal off-season," including basketball and weight training, albeit in more moderate doses.

"I can pretty much do anything I want," said Ripken, who ended the season having played 2,478 consecutive games. "But my approach is going to be a little more cautious because I'm entering the off-season not as healthy as before. I'm having to listen to my body and go slow with certain things. We'll see how it goes."

Ripken reached his verdict Thursday. Until then, he was uncertain whether he would have to undergo a surgery that would have consumed most of his winter with rehabilitation. If there is a risk to his chosen course, it is the possibility that his improvement could slow or stop, leaving him to face some of the same difficulties next season. Surgery is not necessary for most people stricken with herniated disks.

"If something happens or it goes in the other direction, then you have to deal with that situation. But I'm being very positive. It's my understanding that most herniated disk problems heal themselves. In that case, I fit into the larger percentage," he said.

Regaining full flexibility in his lower back and full strength in his left leg are vital to Ripken. Limitations in both areas affected the All-Star's range at third base in August and his power late in the season -- Ripken hit only one home run after Sept. 7 and finished the year with the second-lowest slugging average among the team's regular position players.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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