It is the vertebrae crack that apparently never was.
Three days after reports surfaced that Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a previously undiscovered neck fracture, the team released a statement revealing that “an independent specialist found no evidence” of that injury.
Crosby and GM Ray Shero then held a press conference on Tuesday less than an hour before Pittsburgh faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, adding yet another layer to the already bizarre sequence of events regarding the Pens captain’s health.
Crosby has missed all but eight games this season with ongoing concussion issues that date back to January of last year.
Rather than a fracture, Crosby’s neck issues have been deemed a soft-tissue injury after his latest diagnosis from Philadelphia-based spinal trauma expert Dr. Alexander Vaccaro.
“I think the biggest thing to take from it is that it's something I can work on,” Crosby said. “I can come in and get my neck worked on.
“There's a pretty big possibility that could be causing some of the issues, so I really hope that's the case and hope with some treatment that it'll improve and that's hopefully the end of it.”
Vaccaro’s diagnosis followed an earlier ruling from Dr. Robert Bray in Los Angeles as Crosby’s journey to various head, neck and concussion specialists across North America continues.
It was Bray’s analysis that initially provoked reports that the injury may be a fracture, something the Penguins were reluctant to confirm over the weekend.
Crosby seeking out so many different opinions, meanwhile, has drawn some speculation that he may be unhappy with his treatment by the team’s medical staff.
He was quick to attempt to quiet such talk on Tuesday.
“I think the team’s been very encouraging,” Crosby said. “There’s not a lot of answers with this kind of stuff… I think anyone going through this is just trying to find something to lean on. You give them all the information and you go from there. But the more information you get, the better and that’s what they’ve encouraged.”
Shero indicated Crosby has already been receiving treatment for his neck and that the team was in full support of getting other experts' opinions.
“It’s good to get all the information,” Shero said. “That’s what you have to do with injuries like this … The more you can educate yourself with what needs to be done, the better.”
The process of seeking second and third opinions when NHL players have injuries isn’t uncommon.
Several player agents contacted by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday said they often turn to other specialists when their clients suffered serious injuries, a process players are entitled to in the league’s collective agreement.
Even before Crosby’s injury, the Penguins have had a reputation as a team that supports their players pursuing those outside opinions.
Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and CEO David Morehouse were both in attendance on Monday to review Vaccaro’s findings in Philadelphia.
“In my experience, Ray Shero has encouraged and supported players seeking a second and even third opinion from outside doctors on player injuries,” said one agent who requested to remain anonymous. “The goal is to correctly identify the injury and then get the player back on the ice [as soon as it’s safe to do so]”
Even with all of the recent meetings with specialists, Crosby’s return date remains unclear. He skated on Tuesday morning before his teammates but admitted he continues to experience symptoms.
“I feel much better than a couple weeks ago skating,” Crosby said. “The motion stuff seems to be much better so I’m happy with that. I’m still not where I want to be. It’s encouraging, the skating, and I’m just happy at this point doing that. I’m staying in shape a bit and getting out there. It’s nice to get back in the swing of things.”
Here is the full text of the Penguins' statement from their website:
“ An independent specialist contacted to review recent medical tests taken on Sidney Crosby found no evidence of a past or present neck fracture but verified that Crosby is suffering from a soft-tissue injury of the neck, that could be causing neurological symptoms.
Dr. Alexander Vaccaro is a spinal trauma expert at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and co-director of the Spinal Cord Center at Thomas Jefferson University. He is past president of the American Spinal Injury Association.
Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, along with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and CEO David Morehouse traveled Monday morning to Philadelphia, where Vaccaro reviewed a CAT Scan and MRI taken last week by Dr. Robert S. Bray in Los Angeles. Bray diagnosed a neck injury.
Bray has treated Crosby with an injection to alleviate swelling in the C1-2 joint of the neck and will be overseeing his progression with therapists.
Doctors say the symptoms of a soft-tissue neck injury are similar to concussion symptoms.
Vaccaro, Bray and UPMC doctors all agree that Crosby is safe, the injury is treatable, and he will return to action when he is symptom-free.”