Kieran Read's spinal surgery today should alleviate his chronic leg pain and lead to a quick recovery but it's not necessarily a quick fix and his damaged disc could provide problems in the future.

That is the professional opinion of Dr Rodney Gordon, the President of the New Zealand Spine Society and an orthopedic spinal surgeon at Middlemore Hospital, who said the 32-year-old Read was now probably in "damage control".

Gordon didn't have specific knowledge of the All Blacks captain's case but has performed many of the procedures — known as discectomies — that Read will go through, as well as being on the receiving end of them himself.

Gordon himself has had similar issues.


"There's some uncertainty in the future, unfortunately — there are all sorts of scenarios that can happen," Gordon told the Weekend Herald.

Read's back problem — in layman's terms a bulge in a disc between two vertebrae which is putting pressure on a nerve — affected him badly on the All Blacks' November tour to Europe.

Rather than play against Wales in the last test, he was immobilised in bed due to severe pain in his hip and while there are stories of athletes who have made almost miraculous recoveries from similar operations, others have gone on to have many issues, including superstar golfer Tiger Woods.

Kieran Read leads the haka.
Kieran Read leads the haka.

Woods's return to golf came following several discectomies and then finally a spinal fusion.

"The famous one is Joe Montana from the San Francisco 49ers — he went back to play for the 49ers within a week of having this procedure and they won the Super Bowl," Gordon said.

Read more:
Black Ferns clean up NZ Rugby awards
Rugby: Why Sam Whitelock beat Sam Cane to All Blacks captaincy
Sam Whitelock on leading Haka: Hopefully it's up to scratch

"It is an amazing story but he did that because he was so physically fit and conditioned — his muscles could cope with it, but that's not your average punter, and Kieran Read's not your average punter either, he's strong and conditioned.

"His recovery should be fairly quick but with disc herniation, unfortunately, there's about a 10 per cent recurrence rate.


"Unfortunately when you herniate a disc that disc is damaged, and permanently, and you're in damage control. Right now we don't have the technology to make that disc look normal again. I wish we did. A few others have gone on to have problems, like Tiger Woods — he's had a few discectomies now and a fusion, and that happens."

Gordon said a 4-5cm incision would be made in Read's back through which a probe would be inserted and the bulging disc matter — which Gordon described as having the consistency of crab meat — removed. "Sometimes it can come out as one big piece, sometimes a couple of small pieces," he said.

"Surgery typically takes an hour to 90 minutes. Patients are usually in hospital just overnight and immobilised and hopefully the leg pain has gone away straight away then it's just a matter of getting into the healing phase and the rehab phase.

"He can train up for things but he can't be loading up the spine for the first three months and then he can start to do more rigorous reconditioning."

Taking the pressure off the nerve should alleviate the pain and Read, who has played 109 tests and is a vital part of the All Blacks as they plan to defend the World Cup in Japan in 2019, should be clear to return in about four months, meaning he could take the field for the Crusaders in Super Rugby in April.

Should he stay injury-free after his return, Read should have plenty of match fitness before the three-test tour visit of France in June, but a complicating factor for the Crusaders as they seek to defend their title is the fractured ankle suffered recently by Tom Sanders for which he has had surgery.

Coincidentally, Read is one of four test No8s facing a long injury lay-off. Ireland and Leinster player Jamie Heaslip has played no rugby since March due to a similar back injury to Read, and isn't sure of a return date; England's Billy Vunipoloa requires surgery on a knee which will keep him out for four months, and Wales' Toby Faletau also has a serious knee injury and will be sidelined for a similar amount of time.

The run of injuries to four of the best forwards in the game has renewed pressure on World Rugby to ease the workload on players and move more quickly towards a global season. But few pundits expect any progress on that front in the near future.