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Bird has back surgery; no timetable set on his return

Larry Bird, the star forward of the Boston Celtics, underwent surgery Friday to correct a back injury that kept him out of 22 games this season. Bird, 34, was operated on for about two hours at New England Baptist Hospital, as doctors tried to repair both congenital and playing-aggravated problems in his back.

He was expected to be hospitalized at least three days. After that, he will begin a rehabilitation program that includes nearly 10 miles of walking each day, said Celtics physician Dr. Arnold Scheller, an orthopedic surgeon.

Dave Gavitt, Celtics senior executive vice president, said, "Larry was very positive and very committed to the surgery for two reasons. First, he has been fitted with a brace that finally makes him comfortable. Second, there wasn't any talk about a spinal fusion, the possibility of which made him uneasy."

The surgery was performed by neurosurgeon Dr. Gerwin Neumann; Dr. Alexander Wright, a spine surgeon; and anesthesiologist Klaus Korten. Scheller also was part of the eight-person operating team.

A fragment from a bulging disc that had herniated was removed from Bird's back in order to relieve pressure on a nerve there. As a result of the surgery, the nerve ending was "freed up," Scheller said.

Work also was done in the facet joint area of Bird's back to correct a congenital condition and provide additional room for the nerve ending.

"We had a magnetic resonance test done before the surgery," Scheller said, "and there weren't any surprises. Scar tissue was cleaned out, and now Larry should be able to regain the rotational movement in his back, giving him much greater ability to twist and turn after his rehabilitation period is over."

Scheller and Gavitt refused to place a timetable on Bird's return. Bird has one more season on his contract.

"It's not fair or proper to place a timetable (on his return)," Gavitt said. "We're very encouraged about his attitude and about his desire to play again. We know he'll be back with us at some point during the 1991-92 season."

As part of his rehabilitation program, Bird will wear a brace daily this summer. And because a major goal of the procedure was to improve Bird's flexibility, he will walk up to 10 miles a day, rather than play golf or tennis, Scheller said.

The surgery also means Bird will not be able to participate in his annual charity game at Indianapolis June 23.

The back pain became evident in December and January, when Bird was forced to miss 15 games. He returned in February, playing 27 straight games, but missed seven games in April.

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