Arnold suffers degenerative spine disease

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Although he has expressed hope to play in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1, some question persists whether University of Washington tailback Paul Arnold will see the field again.

One of the state’s most highly recruited players ever in 1998, Arnold has a back condition called spondylosis, a spine disease that weakens one or more vertebrae. It is a degenerative narrowing of the disk that serves as a cushion between the vertebrae. The condition, usually linked to aging, can become serious enough for doctors to recommend a player leave the game.

UW head trainer Dave Burton has referred all questions regarding Arnold to Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who said he remains optimistic that the condition will not threaten Arnold’s career.

“I hate to think that way,” Neuheisel said. “I usually choose to be optimistic, but this is an injury significant enough to keep him out of action for a significant amount of time.”

Spondylosis is a normal consequence of the wear and tear of everyday living. As the body ages, the disks in the back gradually dry out and lose much of their ability to cushion the bony vertebrae from one another.

The condition also has been found in young football players. Through repeated stress on the spine from tackling and blocking, microscopic cracks can form in the vertebrae. Given enough rest, the injuries heal. However, if the player does not get enough rest, it can result in more microfractures than the bone can handle and lead to a stress fracture.

Rest has been prescribed for Arnold, and he has not practiced in more than six weeks. Other treatment includes spinal fusion.

Left untreated, spondylosis can cause part of the vertebral bone to become softer, and the resulting reduction of strength of the area can lead to the vertebrae either slipping out of position or collapsing in on itself.

According to published material authored by John Murtagh, professor of general practice at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, an athlete with slight vertebral slippage may be able to return to activity, but must be monitored frequently. If x-rays indicate the slippage has worsened, the athlete may be advised to switch to an activity that places less stress on the spine, or, in the case of football players, quit the game.

For Arnold, the condition apparently flared up between spring practice in April and two-a-day drills in August. After an explosive spring that led many to predict a breakout season for the sophomore, Arnold appeared tentative in his running during the late summer and fall.

Arnold missed much of fall practice, but played parts of seven games for the Huskies before having his back checked by specialists in late October, when the condition was diagnosed.

Washington tailback Rich Alexis said Arnold has told him that he feels better and remains hopeful that he will be able to play in the Rose Bowl, where the Huskies face Big Ten champion Purdue.

“He’s upbeat, like he always is,” Alexis said. “He wants to come back and thinks he can.”

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