Peering into Steven Jackson's medical file following back surgery isn't a realistic option.
We're left to piece together clues from the past several months to figure out what to expect beyond the St. Louis Rams' suggestion that Jackson would simply be fine.
Jackson suffered the injury, confirmed as a herniated disk, during a Nov. 22 game against the Cardinals. He continued playing. Five weeks later, Jackson cited associated pain down his leg as one reason he sat out the Week 16 rematch between the teams. He also said this pain was new. Jackson said at the time he did not anticipate needing surgery.
The fact that he did have surgery in April tells us the symptoms were not retreating as hoped.
"Pain radiating into the leg signifies that there is nerve involvement to accompany the disk injury, a more serious situation than pain localized to the back area," ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell wrote in late December.
The Rams subsequently said Jackson was doing well after minor surgery, and that he would return no later than the start of training camp. I followed up with Bell on Wednesday to get her take on what to expect. It's tough to be definitive without knowing all the details of the procedure, but some basic principles probably apply.
"If there is a guy with the right build and the right ability to recover from this, it is Steven Jackson," Bell said. "I would be encouraged."
Jackson would be more apt to aggravate the disk injury through non-football activities such as traveling or heavy squat lifting than through getting tackled during games or practices, she thought. Bell pointed to Matt Hasselbeck's 2008 disk problem as one example. Hasselbeck's back flared up during a plane flight, not while playing. For Jackson, twisting as he fights for extra yardage could be more problematic than even taking a helmet hit to the back.
The smart course for Jackson would be to make sure his core muscles are as strong as possible.
"I have to believe he is fairly strong there anyway," Bell said, "but some guys are very fit with very specific deficits in areas that support one area of the spine. His job is to reeducate those muscles and make sure they are working right and then build up his endurance."
Back problems can recur unpredictably, however.
"It's not like you get your ACL reconstructed and you are good to go," Bell said. "Once it's deformed, it is not exactly the same any more. ... My first question would be, 'Are the symptoms gone?' That is a tell-tale sign."
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said Jackson "feels great" following the procedure.