EXCLUSIVE: Former NBA team doctor reveals truth behind Ben Simmons, Draymond Green’s back injuries
Two mysterious back injuries have shaped the NBA landscape this season. Brooklyn Nets’ star Ben Simmons and Golden State Warriors’ star Draymond Green have both been in the spotlight for their recent back problems. And both of their teams anxiously await their return.
For that reason, I spoke with Dr. Rahul Shah, a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, to gain insight and clarity into Simmons’ and Greens’ back injuries and potential timetables.
By now, the stories of these two NBA stars have been well-documented. Simmons hasn’t played a majority of the season following drama with the Philadelphia 76ers and a trade to the Nets. Draymond Green has missed around two months for the Warriors – a team that used to boast the best defense in the league by a wide margin. Without their anchor, though, they’re slipping rapidly and losing ground in a top-heavy Western Conference.
Dr. Shah, himself, is no stranger to the NBA scene, as he used to be one of the team doctors for the Orlando Magic back in the Dwight Howard era. And as a fan, he’s a former season ticket holder for the 76ers.
While some have criticized Simmons’ back injury as merely an excuse to not play, Dr. Shah believes it to be something more. Even when Shah was attending Sixers games, long before the drama, he recalled there’d be games Simmons sat out because of back problems.
“I think this is a recurring issue,” Dr. Shah explained. “He’s been out multiple times for this throughout his career…He’’s a tall, lanky guy, and I believe that he probably has some disc issues in his back.”
The fact that Ben Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since June 2021 only exacerbates the issues.
“You start to warm up, jump, run, twist, torque. And now, all of a sudden, you haven’t been used to doing that. So you’re pushing your body to a place where it isn’t normally functioning. So now, once you’re there, any little irritation can potentially send you off.”
With Simmons already having recurring back problems, his conditioning in getting back into game shape may have triggered those underlying issues.
The timetable, though, remains tricky.
If it’s just a pulled muscle or muscles that aren’t working as well as they should, then a two-to-three week span to recover makes sense, Dr. Shah elaborated. And Simmons could be on the court and playing within four to six weeks from the time of injury.
But if it’s a larger injury – say, a significantly pulled muscle or injured ligament – it could take up to a couple of months to heal. While Ben Simmons’ exact diagnosis is unknown, he’s had back injuries reportedly flare up since October 2021 and throughout the saga with the Sixers.
However, if the back soreness is a result of a disc injury that’s irritating the nerves in his back, it could take much longer.
That’s what’s happening with Draymond Green.
Without all the drama and public scrutiny, Green has also been dealing with a severe back injury – like Ben Simmons.
It started with left calf pain on January 9th, when Green had to miss Klay Thompson’s return game because of the soreness. A week later, the pain was revealed to be related to a disc injury in his back. Draymond hasn’t played in the two months since.
A disc injury can sneakily disguise itself in the form of typical leg pain, Dr. Shah noted. The discs, themselves, are cushions between different bones in the back. The bones are stacked on top of each other like Jenga blocks, and the disc and two joints serve as pillars holding them together.
Any issue with the disc can, then, irritate the nerves that run through those pillars. Those nerves run down the back of the leg, which is why it made perfect sense to Dr. Shah that Green’s basic calf soreness wasn’t diagnosed as a disc injury until later on.
On when Green could return to the court, Dr. Shah revealed he would want to see how Draymond handles practices. “See if he can run and jump. Those are the areas where the discs…are like shock absorbers.”
If Green can handle the shock absorption well in practice, then he’d be on the right track to return.
“The next two weeks are going to be fairly critical to see if he does not make progress there.”
As of early March, Draymond Green has returned to Warriors practices and looks to be moving well in some recorded footage. He’s also participated in three-on-three games after practice with James Wiseman, who’s rehabbing an injury of his own.
Of course, the team wants to approach Draymond’s situation with extreme caution – knowing Green’s playoff availability is one of their top priorities.
“You want to take a measured approach,” Dr. Shah reiterated. “which is exactly what the team doctors are doing. Starting slowly with trying to see if they can ease him back into his level of activity. And I think the next two weeks will tell us that.”