OWINGS MILLS – The saga of Jared Gaither’s aching back took another twist Tuesday when the Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle revealed that he has been diagnosed with a thoracic disc injury, an ailment that he says won’t require surgery.
According to medical journals, a thoracic disc injury is an uncommon back problem that deals with a herniated disc in the upper back that causes radiating numbness and pain.
Gaither’s characterization of the injury is somewhat different from coach John Harbaugh’s description of the problem as a slight tear in the back that had triggered chronic back spasms.
“It’s not spasms,” Gaither said. “It’s a thoracic disc injury.”
During Harbaugh’s most recent update on Gaither, he said the former University of Maryland offensive lineman should be back in two to three weeks. However, a California back specialist told Gaither the injury could linger as long as six weeks.
"It’s not a serious thing, but it’s going to keep him out for a couple weeks until it settles down, because it’s what’s causing the spasms apparently," Harbaugh said. "He’s going to have to work as hard as he can, and we’ll have to try and work it out."
The medical staff is focused on getting Gaither’s back to calm down, which involves a regimen of rest, stretching and strengthening the back.
It’s unclear when he’ll be able to return. Gaither hasn’t practiced since Aug. 5.
"It’s getting better," Gaither said. "Whenever it comes along, I’ll be able to do everything. As soon as I’m 100 percent healthy, I’ll be back."
It’s been a rocky period for Gaither.
First, he clashed with the team when they wanted him to report to the offseason conditioning program before eventually relenting.
Then, he injured his foot one practice after being shifted from left tackle to right tackle during a minicamp and was sidelined for all but one workout.
Working out on his own and not under the supervision of the team, the 6-foot-9 lineman got down to 311 pounds from his playing weight of 340 pounds last season to the obvious frustration of Harbaugh.
Gaither said he’s had good discussions with Harbaugh.
"Right now, all the conversations between me and Harbaugh are about how I’m feeling and how soon I’ll be back," Gaither said. "He wants to know how I’m doing individually as a person and football is second. He wants to know how I’m doing first. It’s a lot of things going on. You want to be out there to help the team."
Gaither emphasized that he won’t return until he feels assured that the back is going to hold up.
He has acknowledged that it’s a frustrating experience waiting to get back on the field.
Gaither said he’s still holding out hope of returning in time for the Ravens’ season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 13 in the Meadowlands.
“That’s the aim,” Gaither said. “The aim is to get back as soon as possible. Whenever I’m healthy, that’s when I’ll be back there. I know that.”