Back specialist: McIlroy's injury rare for golfers

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The roll call of injured players reaches deep and now includes Rory McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world. McIlroy, who lost in a playoff to Graeme Storm at the BMW South African Open on Sunday, started to complain early in the tournament of a sharp pain in his upper back.

“I’m actually surprised I’m standing here, I actually thought about pulling out before even teeing off,” he said. "I tweaked my back somehow. The first few shots weren’t very comfortable and it still isn’t really comfortable. I can’t really take a deep breath because I’ve done something to my upper back. I’m going to go get some treatment. Considering that, I played well, stuck at it and hopefully I can feel better tomorrow.”

On Monday, McIlroy underwent extensive tests and an MRI in Dubai. The results determined that McIlroy has sustained a stress fracture in a rib.

Dr. Sandy Kunkel, Indiana Orthopedic Surgeon, independent examiner for the NFL, team physician for the Indiana Pacers from 1988 to 2004 and one of the nation’s leading back specialists, said that stress fractures of this nature are “extremely rare” in golfers, even those of McIlroy’s caliber.

“They are typical in rowing or upper body weight bearing athletes,” Kunkel said. “Stress fractures are caused by an accumulation of micro-trauma. They are tiny fractures or cracks in the bone. Usually the body just heals them. If you do not give it time to heal, it can result in a full fracture. Typically, an injury of this sort will take a minimum of six weeks to heal.”

Kunkel noted that the only way to ensure that an injury of this nature does not reoccur is to stop engaging in the activity that caused the injury and to strengthen the muscles around the core and spine.

“The modern golf swing is hard on the body,” he said. "To have athletes in their 20s experiencing these types of injuries is very concerning for the long-term.”