KUSA—Turns out, the neck pain Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe was trying to play through the past two seasons was so severe, he quietly underwent end-of-season surgery.
Don’t be alarmed. The surgery took. The Foraminotomy procedure completely alleviated the nerve pain that had forced Wolfe to miss two games in 2016 and the final five games in 2017.
“I can turn my head like an owl,’’ Wolfe said Wednesday in an interview with 9NEWS. “It’s crazy. I can look all the way behind me. It’s insane.’’
What’s nuts is the degree of pain players who line up along the line of scrimmage must overcome in order to play on Sunday.
“I can honestly sit here and tell you that as far as my neck goes – I have to build my strength back up, but I got Loren to help me so I’m not worried about that – but it’s fixed,’’ Wolfe said. “I feel so much better. I swear I couldn’t do a pushup during the season.’’
Broncos neurosurgeon Dr. Chad Prusmack performed the Foraminotomy in the final days of the regular season.
The procedure enlarges the passageway where the spinal nerve exits the spinal canal.
“They don’t have to cut through the muscle or anything,’’ Wolfe said. “They go in there and take out some of the bone where the nerve comes out.’’
While working off-campus with local performance coach Loren Landow – who will soon become the Broncos’ full-time strength and conditioning coach – Wolfe is now throwing up 120-pound dumbbells on the overhead press for sets of 10.
“It’s a whole new season,’’ Wolfe said.
He had actually been dealing with the nerve pain since the 2013 season. As an interior defensive end in the Broncos’ 3-4 system, Wolfe’s shoulders, neck and head collide with an offensive lineman or two on every play.
An interior monster during the Broncos’ defensive-dominant Super Bowl season of 2015, Wolfe got his facemask grabbed and pulled in the 2016 season opener against Carolina. Despite the twisted neck, Wolfe still had 4.0 sacks in his first four games until he suffered a dislocated elbow in an early November game against Oakland that inflamed his nerve damage.
It was another game against Oakland in November of this past season that Wolfe’s face, arm and thigh went numb after taking a hit to the facemask.
This time, the scary sensation sent him to season-ending injured reserve and a team of doctors and tests.
Besides the neck surgery, Wolfe also underwent stem cell treatments.
Now that Wolfe is feeling better than he has in five years, he’s planning on having a huge season for the Broncos – providing the team picks up his $1 million option on March 18. Exercising the option would mean the Broncos are ready to budget in $9.4 million for Wolfe in 2018 – which currently would make him the team’s third-highest-paid player.
It’s been stated before – any Broncos player making big money is vulnerable as the front office reshapes a roster that produced a 5-11 record last year.
“I don’t listen to it,’’ Wolfe said. “I don’t listen to it because at the end of the day it’s not in my control. All I can do is try and come back healthy. When I was able to get out there on the field, I played well.’’