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Crosby may have had fractured vertebrae as well as concussions

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skates during practice in Sunrise, Fla., Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. Crosby skated with his teammates for the first time in more than a month on Friday but still has no idea when he'll be cleared to practice, let alone see action in a game.

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Sidney Crosby may have suffered two cracked vertebrae in addition to a concussion, although the Pittsburgh Penguins say his neck injury is "fully healed." Crosby, who has been skating for the last two weeks, still hopes to play this season, according to his agent, Pat Brisson.

The neck injury was reported Saturday by Sportsnet's Bob McCown as an "abnormality" in his C1 and C2 vertebrae discovered by someone the Pittsburgh Penguins star consulted in Utah. Brisson said in response that the vertebrae may be cracked. He also said the neck injury was discovered by Dr. Robert Bray in Los Angeles, not by anyone in Utah. Brisson said Crosby is consulting an independent specialist in hopes of an exact diagnosis in the next 24 to 48 hours.

"He's definitely trying to play this year," Brisson said. "There is no doubt his goal is to play hockey this year. He wants to come back quickly but safely."

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Brisson, who was in Ottawa for the NHL all-star game, said Dr. Bray told Crosby he is not in any danger from the neck injury. "The doctor said, 'You're safe. You're not in danger.' That's No. 1," Brisson said.

The Penguins, who seemed to be caught off-guard by the initial report, released a statement Saturday night that only described the problem as a "neck injury" and it had healed. Brisson said it is not known when the neck injuries occurred.

Crosby was originally diagnosed with a concussion following games on Jan. 1, 2011 when he was hit by Dave Steckel, then of the Washington Capitals, and Jan. 5 last year when he was hit by Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In late November, Crosby finally returned to the lineup but lasted only eight games before he was hit by Boston Bruins forward David Krejci on Dec. 5.

While there were reports Crosby suffered a second concussion as a result of the Krejci hit, Brisson said only one concussion has been diagnosed. It is not clear if the vertebrae injuries occurred as a result of the Krejci hit or one of the earlier collisions.

"The diagnosis of Dr. Robert S. Bray, a neurological spine specialist based in Los Angeles, is that [Crosby]had suffered a neck injury in addition to a concussion. Dr. Bray reports that the neck injury is fully healed. Those findings will be evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days. The most important goal all along has been Sidney's return to full health, and we are encouraged that progress continues to be made," the Penguins said in the statement.

Earlier on Saturday, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said he hopes Crosby will be able to play before the end of this season.

"We'll see, hopefully, next week where he is [after]we get the reports from California," Shero said. "The thing with Sidney is we want to continue to look to see how we can get this under control and manageable. Hopefully we'll have him back here at some point soon."

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Dr. Paul Echlin, of London, Ont., who specializes in treating concussions, said it is not uncommon for people who suffer concussions to also sustain injuries to their vertebrae. He said he cannot offer an opinion on Crosby's latest injury because he has not examined him, but did say the C1 and C2 vertebrae are the two most important ones in the cervical spine.

"Those are the ones your neck rotates on and the ones you're most careful about making sure are not involved [in a head injury]" Dr. Echlin said.

Dr. Echlin also said it is difficult to make a prognosis about when Crosby will play again because the neck injuries complicate the situation. It is already difficult to make predictions about concussions, the doctor said, without other factors.

Even if someone said Crosby could return for the NHL playoffs in April, Dr. Echlin said, "those are big projections for anybody to make."

The vertebrae problem is the second time a serious injury was not immediately diagnosed by the Penguins' team doctors. Crosby was allowed to play on Jan. 5 last year, four days after the hit by Steckel in the NHL's Winter Classic. The team said at the time that Crosby did not display any concussion symptoms until after the Jan. 5 game against the Lightning.

In the past few weeks, Crosby has consulted a chiropractor in Atlanta as well as Dr. Bray in Los Angeles, hoping to speed up his recovery from the concussions.

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