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Playoffs 2020

NBA Playoffs 2020: Expert medical analysis on Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum's back injury

In the third quarter of the Portland Trail Blazers' first seeding game, guard CJ McCollum dove on the floor to make a hustle play.

This hustle play would result in him suffering a non-displaced L3 transverse process fracture in his back, an injury first reported by Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest.

Over the next seven games, McCollum struggled from the field at times but posted averages of 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.1 assists to close the season. It was in the play-in tournament where his injury seemed like a non-issue, as he finished with 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting, including a number of clutch buckets down the stretch.

After the game, McCollum and Damian Lillard both acknowledged the injury with a Mike Tyson impersonation, telling Lisa Salters "I broke my back - spinal!" McCollum continued, adding that "The Lord has taken good care of me. I'm getting treatment around the clock and, I'm just thankful that it's not worse than it is."

Just how bad is this injury? How effective can McCollum be in the Blazers' first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers? We reached out to our medical expert, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael S. George of the KSF Orthopaedic Center in Houston, Texas, for more information.


What is an L3 transverse process fracture, how does it happen and what does it mean?

"According to reports, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum suffered a non-displaced L3 transverse process (TP) fracture during the seeding games in the NBA bubble in Orlando. The lumbar spine is the portion of the spine in the low back - it has five vertebral bodies numbered one through five. Each vertebral body has two TPs - one on each side - that project laterally and serve as the attachment of the psoas muscle and the quadratus lumborum.

"These muscles are responsible for flexion and extension of the lumbar spine as well as lateral bending. The most common causes of TP fractures are direct trauma or an avulsion fracture caused by forceful contraction of the psoas muscle that pulls off a portion of the bone."

Is he playing through pain? How long will it take for him to heal?

"TP fractures do not typically cause neurological issues, but they do cause pain. The initial trauma is painful just like any fracture and also causes soft-tissue swelling and inflammation. Contractions of the muscles that attach to the TP cause repeated traction on the fracture and continued pain.

"That means each flexion, extension or lateral bending of the trunk, results in the muscle attachments puling on the fractured TPs. The fracture typically takes about six weeks to heal. Continued high-level athletic activity should not result in delayed healing but one can imagine that playing NBA basketball would be very painful."

Can he recover during the playoffs? Will there be long-lasting complications?

"Given his diagnosis, it is very impressive to see him continue to perform at such a high level. Unfortunately, his condition is unlikely to resolve completely until the offseason. This would not be expected to cause any long-term problems, although low back issues can often be difficult to predict."


The Portland Trail Blazers continue their series with the Los Angeles Lakers with a 1-0 lead. Game 2 goes down on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on TSN.

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