DWTS Week 2: Will an Injury Cause Dorothy Hamill to Quit?

Figure skater Dorothy Hamill knows what it takes to win an athletic competition. The 56-year-old became a household name when she won the gold medal in figure skating at the 1976 Winter Olympics.

But winning a mirror ball trophy on Dancing With The Stars may be more difficult than she bargained for.

Hamill has had to miss 2 rehearsals this week due to a painful back condition:

It’s a cyst on the lumbar spine and it’s pinching a nerve.

The cyst was present before she joined the cast of DWTS , but the vigorous demands of ballroom dancing have dramatically increased her discomfort. In addition, when the nerve becomes “pinched” her right ankle gives way, causing her to lose her balance.

Her performance last night was less than stellar, with many missed steps, and put her near the bottom of the leaderboard.

Hamill is also a breast cancer survivor, being diagnosed in 2008.

What is a lumbar spine cyst?

Facet-JointThe most common type of lumbar spine cyst is called a  synovial cyst. It is a fluid-filled sac that can bulge into the spinal canal.

Synovial cysts arise from the lining of the facet joins of the vertebrae. Each vertebra has two sets of facet joints.  They are hinge–like and serve to link the vertebrae together.

Facet joints are synovial joints, not unlike those of the knee or hip. A synovial joint is surrounded by a capsule which produces a fluid to nourish and lubricate the joint. The surfaces of a synovial joint are coated with cartilage.  This allows the bones on either side of the joint to glide smoothly against each other.

Synovial cysts usually develop from degeneration of the spine and is most commonly found at L4-5 level, the site of greatest spine mobility. It is rarely seen in patients younger than 45 and is most common in patients older than 65 years old.

Synovial cysts may be completely asymptomatic, and found during a radiographic examination (CT scan, MRI) done for some other reason.

LumbarSpine_Fig02b_enIf a cyst expands into the spinal canal, it can compress (“pinch”) the nerve roots that exit from the spinal cord and cause symptoms including pain, sciatica, tingling sensations, feelings of pins and needles, weakness or numbness in the buttocks, legs, and/or calves

Sciatica is not a disease in itself, but refers to a group of symptoms which  includes lower back pain, buttock pain, and pain, numbness or weakness in various parts of the leg and foot.

Typically, the symptoms of a lumbar spine cyst tend to increase when walking and decrease when sitting, bending forward, or lying down. Rare complications include bladder or bowel problems, or paraplegia.

Conservative treatment can range from observation, bed rest and oral analgesics to physical therapy and injection of corticosteroids into the joint. Aspiration of the cyst may offer short-term relief, but tends to reoccur.

Surgical treatment is recommended for those who’s pain is unresponsive to conservative treatment or for those who have neurological deficits.



Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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