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Hawkins' back issue a permanent problem, says Doc Larkins

Tomahawk can't bend Tom Hawkins' back injury continues to cause problems
Tom Hawkins of the Cats in action during the 2013 AFL Round 16 match between the Geelong Cats and the Melbourne Demons at Simonds Stadium, Geelong on July 13, 2013. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Geelong forward Tom Hawkins has been struggling with a back problem
GEELONG forward Tom Hawkins should line up against the Sydney Swans on Saturday afternoon at Simonds Stadium after benefitting from a week of rest.

But the bulging disc issue he has been carrying this season is a permanent problem with the potential to deteriorate over time, leading sports medico Dr Peter Larkins says.  

The 25-year-old has a bulging L4-L5 lumbar disc, which has been causing inflammation around the lower part of his spine.

It creates stiffness in the muscles around the area, and while he has been largely unimpeded during the week he has at times been affected on game day.

Larkins said it was wise to spare the big forward from last weekend's trip to Perth as the long flight would have aggravated the problem, but he expected Hawkins to be fine to face the Swans.

"The week off will be beneficial but it probably doesn't need much more than that," Larkins told AFL.com.au.

"It's quite realistic he'll play against Sydney this week because he will have benefitted from the time off, and with physiotherapy and medication and a lot of work on core exercises and Pilates work."

Hawkins himself has also put up his hand to play, Tweeting on Saturday he would be fine to resume in the Cats' second-last game at their home stadium this season.

"Thanks everyone for the kind messages over the last few days!! I have had a great week, so I should be "BACK" next weekend," Hawkins wrote.

"However a spot might not be there for me next week. How good are the boys playing?!!!!"
Hawkins' complaint usually requires non-surgical intervention, except in extreme cases such as those suffered by Garry Lyon, Ang Christou and Brad Ottens.

The Cats also have recent experience in dealing with such ailments, with Dawson Simpson undergoing surgery to repair a more severe issue.

Larkins said resting Hawkins for a lengthy period was unnecessary, with the cons of missing football outweighing the pros.  

"There's no point putting him aside for a month because he loses fitness," he said.

"Rest takes away the inflammation and the pain but that often only takes a few days - he's been good between matches and been able to play and train well at the end of each week and that's why they've kept playing him throughout the middle part of the year.

"Having a month off will mean he's still got a bulging disc at the end of the month but his back won't be sore and he will have lost a month of football."

A disc is the jelly-like material that exists between vertebrae and acts like a shock absorber.  A bulge can occur when doing things as simple as lifting, coughing or sneezing, or putting the back through an awkward extension.

Hawkins isn't experiencing nerve pain - it's the stiffness and inflammation of the disc and the joints next to it that is causing problems.

Larkins said once the disc pushes out it doesn't go back in, but it could shrink and pain could be eased if treated properly.  

"When you squeeze the toothpaste tube and the toothpaste comes out, you can't then put it back in," he said.

"It can shrink down so the disc can ultimately become smaller and compress itself. A grape eventually becomes a raisin if you leave it in the sun for long enough.

"It can get worse but it hasn't. All that's happened is he continues to get bouts of the inflammation and the stiffness and sometimes he's played well this year and then the last few weeks it clearly hasn't settled from week to week.

"At his age, it's not great to have because it means he's always going have a weakness in his back as he gets older.

"Hopefully it doesn't get worse like Simpson's did."

Twitter: @AFL_JenPhelan