Back in the Game After a Herniated Disc

Michelle Sidor is not used to being on the sidelines. After leading her New Jersey high school basketball team to four straight county championships, the honor roll student was named an ESPN four-star recruit and went on to play for the University of Michigan. By the end of her junior year, Michelle was an Academic All-Big Ten and had played in nearly 70 college games. She was excited about her senior year, but after the very first game she was out for the season due to a back injury. Thanks to neurosurgeon Osama Kashlan, MD, MPH, Michelle was able to sign with DePaul and get back onto the court as a graduate student. She played in all 32 games of the 2023-2024 season and led DePaul in made three-point goals and three-point field goal percentage, all while completing a master’s degree in communications. Best of all, she is pain free.

The problem started in the spring of 2022, as Michelle was finishing her junior year at Michigan. Deadlifting during a workout one day, she felt something in her back that she assumed was a pulled muscle. She wasn’t too worried about it at first, having strained her back before. But this time it was different.

“The pain never went away,” says Michelle. “Throughout the summer it was just low back pain, but it got to the point where I had to alter my workouts from what our team was doing because of the pain.  Still, I pushed through as much as I could.” The pain got progressively worse, shooting down to her ankle. Visits to a chiropractor and two epidural shots didn’t help, and when the basketball season started In November she played only one game before having to withdraw.

“The only thing that could resolve this was surgery. And with the amount of pain I was in, I was more than ready.”

“I was super sad because I was missing out on my senior year of college basketball,” she says. But the pain affected more than just her athletic career.  “It limited every single aspect of my life,” she says. Sitting in class, standing up, sneezing, going to the bathroom, sleeping, everything she did, every day, made the pain worse. “The list goes on and on,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything without pain. I spent as much time as I could lying in my bed.” For an active student-athlete who loved biking, running, and hiking, the situation was intolerable.

Michelle credits her University of Michigan athletic trainer, Christina Fanning, for helping her through it. “She’s the one who first said it may be a bulging disc,” Michelle recalls. “She took every step with me from setting up appointments, meeting with doctors, and helping schedule X-rays, shots, and MRIs.”  

None of the conservative treatments worked, and by the end of 2022 Michelle knew she had only one option left. “I had tried everything, and nothing was helping,” says Michelle. “The only thing that could resolve this was surgery. And with the amount of pain I was in, I was more than ready.” The athletic director knew a spine surgeon, Dr. Osama Kashlan, and she sent Michelle for a consultation.

“When I first met Michelle I could tell how much pain she was in, and how hard she had tried to make nonsurgical options work,” says Dr. Kashlan. “I would never recommend surgery as a first choice, but by the time Michelle came to me she had exhausted all other options. Her scans showed a significant disc herniation, and I was confident we could repair it surgically and get her back in the game.”

Michelle was not happy about the prospect of spine surgery. “I was extremely scared,” she says. “The biggest fear was even more pain, or the pain not going away. Surgery was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Endoscopic spine surgery

Endoscopic spine surgery requires only a tiny incision; a skilled neurosurgeon can repair the damaged disc by inserting the endoscope and its tools through an opening less than half an inch long.

Dr. Kashlan did his best to put Michelle’s mind at ease. He recommended an endoscopic discectomy  an ultra-minimally invasive procedure that would allow him to repair the herniated disc through the tiniest of incisions. Not every neurosurgeon is trained in endoscopic spine surgery, and not every patient is a good candidate for it, but for the right patient in expert hands the procedure is a game-changer, with shorter surgical time and faster recovery than possible with traditional surgery.

"If the pain hadn’t gone away, I would have never been able to play the sport I love again."

“I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I was to be Dr. Kashlan’s patient,” Michelle says. “Right from the start he gave me the confidence that this was the best option, and that he would get me back on the court. He took the time to speak with me, along with my mom and dad, who had a lot of questions.”

Dr. Kashlan performed the surgery in January 2023 and Michelle pronounces it 100 percent successful. “I am completely pain-free post-surgery,” she exults.  “He is the reason I was able to get my master’s degree while playing in the Big East Conference. If the pain hadn’t gone away, I would have never been able to play the sport I love again. I got to be a part of setting the all-time women’s basketball record vs Iowa and play in front of 55,646 people this past year at DePaul. I can go about my life as if I was never injured. I take care of myself and make sure to stay on top of strength exercises and mobility.”

Michelle Sidor and Christina Fanning

Michelle Sidor and her athletic trainer, Christina Fanning, MS, ATC, LAT

Michelle credits her athletic trainer with much of her recovery. “She helped with my three months of post-surgery rehab, coordinating with Dr. Kashlan to keep me safe as I built up strength again. She was a major resource for me and always believed in me, which helped me believe even more in myself.”

“It’s unusual to see a severely herniated disc in someone as young as Michelle,” says Dr. Kashlan. “We think of it as a degenerative condition, caused by aging and normal wear and tear over time, but in fact it can happen to anyone. It can definitely be caused by a sudden injury, as what seems to have happened in Michelle’s case. Endoscopic surgery is certainly advantageous for older patients who aren’t up for prolonged open surgery, but it’s also a terrific option for a young, healthy patient who wants to get back to an active life quickly.”

"Dr. Kashlan assured me from day one that he was going to get me back to feeling 100 percent, and back on that court."

Michelle Sidor got back to playing college ball thanks to Dr. Osama Kashlan

Michelle is grateful to be back in action, and is especially grateful for the support of her family, friends, and teammates.  “For them to see me stripped of working out and playing basketball my senior year  they knew how tough it was for me,” she muses. “My senior year I had a major opportunity to contribute to my team, and it was all taken away from me. Mentally I struggled, and physically I was hurting every day. I appreciate them more than they know. After the surgery, my teammates and family saw me pain-free and working out again. After I committed to DePaul they could see how happy I was, and once again they had my back. They saw that post-surgery I was truly myself again.”

Having lost her senior year to the injury, Michelle is glad that she trusted the process and got back to playing the next season. “It took me nine months of pain before I got surgery,” she says. “After my surgery I couldn’t bend, lift, or twist for six weeks, and then I had to go through three months of rehab. I couldn’t even carry a bag on my shoulder to class. But I trusted the process and didn’t try to speed anything up or take risks. At the end of the day, taking care of yourself is the most important thing.”  

Dr. Kashlan certainly has a real fan in Michelle, who credits his expertise and compassion with getting her back to her old self.  “Without this surgery and Dr. Kashlan’s help throughout this process, I don’t know what life would be like today,” she says. “I am currently living the happiest and healthiest life I ever have. With surgery there’s always a risk, but Dr. Kashlan asured me from day one that he was going to get me back to feeling 100 percent, and back on that court. Thank you Dr. Kashlan!”

Osama Kashlan, MD, MPH

Dr. Kashlan
is now accepting new patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist, where his practice covers a wide range of spinal disorders, including herniated disc, degenerative spinal disorders, spinal trauma, scoliosis and spinal deformity, and spinal tumors. He specializes in minimally invasive and ultra-minimally invasive procedures, including endoscopic spine surgery.

Michelle sent Dr. Kashlan a personal thank you message.

More about Dr. Kashlan

More about neurological surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist

Watch Michelle's highlight reel from Michigan:

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787