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Drayer: 2 surgeries later, Mitch Haniger rejoins Mariners in Peoria

Mitch Haniger has reported to camp with the Mariners in Peoria, but after undergoing back and core surgeries in the past month has a long road of recovery and rehab before he takes the field with his teammates again.

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“I’m feeling good right now, a lot less pain,” said a noticeably thinner Haniger Thursday morning. “I’m excited to be in camp with the guys.”

Rather than wait for questions of how he ended up having two surgeries in a matter of weeks in January, the Mariners outfielder launched into the full progression of how he got from rehabbing from surgery to repair a ruptured testicle in June to core and back surgeries in January.

“Early on in the rehab last summer I tore my adductor muscle attachment of my core and unfortunately it went undiagnosed and led to my back injury,” he said. “That was in August. We tried to shut that down do some rehab, throughout the offseason build core strength, low back strength. I felt really good, went through my offseason trying to build everything to where it was.”

There were numerous stops and starts in Haniger’s return from the original surgery. He eventually was able to work his way back enough to be sent on a rehab assignment, playing in three minor league games in August for Mariners’ affiliates triple-A Tacoma and high-A Modesto before back troubles sidelined him again. In early, September he left the team briefly to get a second opinion on his back which mostly echoed the first evaluation. More rehab would follow with Haniger staying in Seattle to work for a few extra weeks after the season ended. After that, it was back home to California where he continued his work at home and twice a week at Sparta Science, the performance center he has worked out at for years.

“I was in a really good spot early January, feeling really good,” he said. “I started ramping up activities a little bit more like you would do in January and woke up one day with a ton of pain and couldn’t really walk. I called my agent, called the Mariners and decided to fly to Philadelphia to see the best core surgeon in the country. I got the MRI and could tell right away what had happened, what was going on. We thought that surgery would fix a lot of the pain I was having.”

The surgery repaired the torn adductor attachment which Haniger apparently had been working through since August. The rehab work he had been doing most likely strengthened the muscles around the injury which allowed him to continue to progress. What it didn’t do, however, was heal the injury.

“The adductor muscle doesn’t get healed through rehab or rest, so I was kind of stubbing my foot that whole time,” said Haniger. “It’s definitely frustrating. You kick yourself thinking of what could have been different. At the end of the day, leading up to the surgeries I had a really good offseason.”

The relief of finding an answer and undergoing the surgery to repair the injury was short lived.

“I got that fixed, started going through the rehab and had a lot of back pain and it actually was making some of the back pain worse,” he said.

Haniger contacted the surgeon who performed the core surgery who put him in touch with a back specialist in Los Angeles. An MRI showed significant herniation of a disc in his lower back and a discectomy was performed.

It is believed that all of the issues are interconnected. It is not uncommon for complex hernias to occur after core surgeries as the area is weakened. The core area is instrumental in stabilizing the spine, and when the spine is not stabilized injury can occur. While back surgery sounds daunting, according to an independent doctor I spoke with, the recovery from the discectomy is much more straight forward. It is a less invasive surgery that should not add to the recovery time of the adductor surgery, which is more complex because of larger group of muscles involved and the precision necessary to isolate them in rehab work. That rehab must be followed to the letter or more injury can occur.

For now, Haniger is limited to walking only. No twisting, bending or lifting. No joining his teammates on the field as he would not be able to get out of the way of an errant throw. His mobility will be very limited for the next four weeks and there is no timetable for his return. Despite this, his outlook is good.

“I was killing it this offseason with a herniated disk and torn adductor not knowing it,” he said. “I was putting up some really good numbers (at Sparta Science) so the way I choose to look at it is what am I going to be capable of when I am actually healthy? That’s how I choose to look at it and I am excited to see what level I can be at now that I am fixed and start this healing process. I think I can be better than what I have been, better than I ever was when I get back on the field.”

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