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No good news for Kiwanuka

New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (94)

New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (94) reacts after sacking Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young during the first quarter of an NFL football game. (Sept. 26, 2010) Credit: AP

Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka saw another spine specialist this week, but it's the same story: He needs more rest for a herniated disc in his neck, and he isn't sure when - or if - he'll return this season. 

"All we can do is give it some time and go from there," said Kiwanuka, who visited Dr. Robert Watkins - the doctor who helped treat Antonio Pierce and performed surgery on Giants Michael Johnson and (then of the Eagles) Shawn Andrews. "It's a matter of waiting. [The doctors] are very optimistic that it will heal on its own, but it's just going to take time for that to happen."

Kiwanuka returned earlier this week from a visit to a Los Angeles doctor, and he will have seen six specialists by the time his evaluation is completed. But all the doctors concur that rest is the only solution. 

Kiwanuka acknowledged that he may have a condition called spinal stenosis - where the spinal canal narrows. Many football players have the condition, although some have been forced to retire because of it. Kiwanuka didn't sound as if he's close to being forced to leave the game, however. 

"The main thing we're doing is waiting for the herniation to subside, and they're very optimistic that will happen on its own," he said.

Asked what he learned this week from his latest visit to a doctor, Kiwanuka said, "Patience is a virtue, and that I'm going to learn how to possess it. It’s a very frustrating injury. There are no signs or things you can do aside from get rest and wait. That’s not something we’re taught to do growing up. The only thing I can do to help this team right now is to be patient and not to rush things."

I asked Kiwanuka if, in his heart of hearts, he believes he will play again this season, and he responded: "Absolutely, absolutely." He just doesn't know when that return will come. 

"Realistically is it going to change in a few days, a few weeks? No," he said.

Asked what may have caused the injury, Kiwanuka said he didn't know.

"People can herniate their backs doing anything from picking up a load of laundry to hitting someone on the football field," he said. "In my opinion, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. There’s nothing I can do about it. When I get back, I’m not going to change the way I play at all, as long as there’s no risk of me re-injuring myself, which all indications are that if it heals properly, then I’ll be fine to go from there on out. I’m just waiting to get that clearance." 

Kiwanuka said seeing Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffer a paralyzing neck injury on Saturday and then watching Lions linebacker Zack Follett lay motionless on the turf on Sunday after a helmet-to-helmet hit made him realize just how tenuous his situation truly is.

"When I really sat down and thought that maybe I was a hit away from being paralyzed or never playing again, it makes me thankful we have a medical staff that understood the severity of the situation," he said. "The first time that I went in there with a complaint, they legitimately saved my career and possibly could have saved my limbs and my life." 

Kiwanuka acknowledges the fact he's in the final year of his contract is an issue.

"It’s definitely a factor and that’s part of the reason I said I will not play unless I’m absolutely healthy, unless I’m cleared to play and there’s not going to be a risk of re-injuring myself," he said. "I definitely have to look out for myself and the fact that it’s the last year of my contract. That goes without saying. I’m not going to go out there if I’m going to re-injure myself anyway."

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