Cam Newton has two fractures in his lower back, and according to one sports doctor, it’s highly unlikely Newton will play this week against Tampa Bay.
The Carolina Panthers starting quarterback suffered two transverse process fractures to his back after being involved in a two-car accident less than two blocks from Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
The transverse process is a protrusion on the back of a vertebrae bone in the spine. That specific injury does not typically result in long-term injury, but pain must be managed for up to a month.
“I think it’s going to be highly unlikely that he comes back to play on Sunday because he’s going to need a little bit more time to recover from this injury,” said Dr. Ty Thaiyananthan, neurosurgeon and founder of BASIC Spine in Newport Beach, Calif.
Thaiyananthan said it’s all about pain tolerance in determining Newton’s return to the playing field. He said typically the pain gets worse in the first week before it gets better.
But with the Panthers in the playoff hunt with two games remaining in the regular season after Sunday, Newton could play the following week against Cleveland on Dec. 20.
“I think it’s very, very possible,” Thaiyananthan said. “A lot of times players will tape the area or brace it to help them to accommodate the pain. It’s possible to play. It’s within the level of possibility. How he responds and how he does in the next three to four days will be predictive of how he’s going to be able to finish the year out.”
Two high-profile quarterbacks have suffered the same injury that Newton suffered Tuesday, though in different fashions.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered the same injury in late October when a Washington defender kneed him in the back on a tackle. Romo received a pain-killing injection and returned to the game, where he looked less-than-mobile in the 20-17 overtime loss to Washington.
His status for the following week’s game was up in the air for most of the week, and he was eventually inactive for the Cowboys’ game against the Cardinals.
Romo returned to action the following week and passed for 246 yards and three touchdowns against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Baylor University quarterback Bryce Petty suffered the injury during the Bears’September win against Southern Methodist University. He was pulled at halftime due to the injury, and later he described what it was like playing with it.
“I’m bummed out because it’s never fun being hurt,” Petty told CBSSports.com. “Bummed out because I just watched tape and everything is off. You never want to make any excuses. When you’re throwing and I can’t torque (it’s frustrating). Every time I went to throw it would jolt. It felt like somebody was punching me in my side.”
Petty sat out Baylor’s next game but returned the following week to throw for 416 yards and four touchdowns against Buffalo.
“It’s not an unstable fracture,” Thaiyananthan said. “What he’s dealing with is pain and not a true mechanical injury of any sort that’s going to limit him.
“That’s pain. The activities that are going to hurt are flexing, bending and rotating side to side. Those are what will be the most painful maneuvers.”
Newton cracked his ribs during an Aug. 22 exhibition against the New England Patriots. He missed the final exhibition and then the Week 1 game at Tampa Bay.
Thaiyananthan said the rib injury, which has since healed, wouldn’t be affected by Tuesday’s injury. In fact, he considered the cracked ribs a more serious injury than the transverse process fractures.
“You can use that to really predict when he may be coming back to play,” Thaiyananthan said. “It’s very plausible that he could play – if he misses the next game – probably in a week or so. It’s going to be painful but he could come back.”