Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will have lower-back surgery to remove a fragment of a herniated disc on Friday, a common procedure that will keep him from coaching for up to four weeks.
It will be the fifth surgery since April for Krzyzewski, who will turn 70 on Feb. 13.
Despite age, the recovery can be relatively quick for someone who’s healthy, according to Moe R. Lim, MD, associate professor of orthopaedics at UNC.
Some people, he said, are up and walking right away.
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While surgery related to arthritis in the back – a condition affecting everyone over 70, he said – can relieve pain, it isn’t a cure.
“It’s something we can’t fix,” said Lim, the surgeon-in-chief at UNC Hillsborough Hospital. “With the spine, you solve a problem, but the original problem is still there no matter what kind of treatment one undertakes.”
Krzyzewski had total left knee surgery in April and hernia repair surgery in May. A few months after back surgery during the 1994-95 season, Krzyzewski was hospitalized before turning head coaching duties over to his assistant, Pete Gaudet. Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel will take over for Krzyzewski starting with the Boston College game on Saturday.
Krzyzewski tried “conservative” treatment options before it was concluded that surgery is necessary, according to a statement released by Duke Monday.
Mark Mikles, who specializes in back surgery at Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic, said opting for surgery can happen sooner depending on the severity of your pain.
“Sometimes, if we have severe leg pain and weakness, and you can’t really walk or function well, then those are times when you may need surgery sooner rather than later,” he said.
Aside from moments that fire him up – a bad call, missed rebounds, Virginia Tech coming out and punching you in the mouth, Krzyzewski stays seated next to Capel most games.
Surgery to remove a fragment of a herniated disc takes between one and two hours. The microscopic procedure is done through a 1 to 2 inch incision to remove the disc material. Mikles, the department president of orthopaedics at Rex Hospital, described it as the jelly inside of a jelly doughnut being pushed out.
More significant issues arise when a nerve gets pinched, which can cause debilitating pain in the legs.
“When a nerve gets pinched, it’s the most horrible thing,” Lim said. “Most medications have side effects: makes you groggy, can’t drive, can’t think straight. You can’t function professionally on those medications.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan