In the Training Room: Colts’ QB Peyton Manning

Last off-season, Colts fans held their breath at news that their ever-durable QB Peyton Manning had neck surgery to address what was described as intermittent discomfort. After he proceeded to throw 761 times in the next 22 games (including pre-season, post-season and all 5 attempts in the Pro Bowl), it could easily be assumed that his neck was healthy and the issue resolved. But questions lingered – a rumor surfaced early in the season that Manning was still injured (or re-injured), eyebrows were raised when he wore compression sleeves on his elbows, and TV analysts commented that he didn’t look to have the same strength or precision as usual. It appears that questions were answered a couple weeks ago when Manning announced that he had undergone a second neck surgery in as many years. The issue is… what were the right questions? Paul Kuharsky posted a great analysis pointing to what we should be asking. With answers to these questions, we’d understand better whether it was one particular disc that was a recurring issue, whether this is a broader issue with Peyton’s health, and whether his contract (whenever it comes) will represent a smart investment by the Colts.

But it seems that more people are interested in knowing whether this most recent surgery validates the rumor that surfaced in September that Manning suffered an undisclosed neck injury. Here are my thoughts: No – this does not validate the rumor:

  1. Manning didn’t have the procedure until late May, more than two months later into the post-season than when he had neck surgery last year. If this was a problem that surfaced during the season, it stands to reason he would have had it addressed immediately following the Pro Bowl (or even foregone that game) to allow himself maximum recovery time before the 2011 season.
  2. It can take years for a disc to slip, or “herniate.” To illustrate, think of the discs between your vertebrae as little water balloons. When you bend your head forward, the front side of the balloon is compressed between the vertebrae, and all the water flows to the back side. The balloon is stretched and weakened on the back side, to the point where it eventually ruptures. The fluid leaks out and puts pressure on the spinal column, resulting in the pain we know as a “slipped disc.” Through years of poor posture, bad habits, or disadvantaged genetics, this happens to many of us in our 30s and beyond.
  3. I don’t like to consider this possibility, but to be fair, it is possible that Peyton suffers from the same degenerative disease (spinal stenosis) that caused older brother Cooper to retire from football after high school. This was just further progression of the condition.

Yes – this validates the rumor:

  1. Manning’s doctors would have wanted to do everything possible to avoid a second neck surgery, attempting other methods (such as traction therapy) to coax the bulging disc back into place. They set a timetable and determined that surgery in late May would be the last possible time window to still allow him to return in time for the 2011 season.
  2. Manning suffered some violent collisions during that Texans game last year, and one of those collisions was violent enough to rupture a disc.

Don’t read into the fact that I have 3 points supporting the “doesn’t validate” position and only 2 for “does validate.” I can make an argument for either position, but my personal opinion is that it doesn’t matter. There is literally nothing to be gained by knowing whether someone “won” that argument. For Colts fans, winning will be if Manning is relieved of his aches and pains, and can have a Super Bowl, MVP, and Super Bowl MVP season for 2011-12. Editor’s Note: For me, the relationship between a September rumor concerning a neck injury that may or may not have occurred during the season opener against the Houston Texans is tenuous at best. Manning’s performance immediately following the reported rumor, his production and success, as well the most active passing season of his career, does not mesh well with a suggestion that a serious injury occurred — one the Colts front office was extremely worried about. For me, there are simply too many things that happened after the rumor circulated, including numerous hits in subsequent games, that make validation for the rumor nearly impossible. Throw in the time table for the surgery, and that Manning was very active in the early off-season throwing lots of passes to his receivers and it just does not compute for me. In either case, Laura is right. What is important is that Manning repairs and recovers from the bulging disc in time to help the Colts get a positive start to the 2011 season.