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Spine expert consulted about Helton

Spine expert consulted about Helton

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WASHINGTON -- The quest for answers to first baseman Todd Helton's chronic back problems have led him and the Rockies to seek the expertise of Dr. Robert Watkins, a renowned spine surgeon for athletes.

The Rockies have sent all information on the injury, including a recent MRI, to Watkins' office in Marina Del Rey, Calif.

Helton -- who has dealt with various back ailments since 2002, but had never gone on the disabled list because of them until July 3 -- has had multiple epidural treatments. He tried to play through the injury this year, but hit .266 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 81 games before pain from a degenerative condition forced him to go on the DL.

Helton increased his activity in late July, attempting to hit soft tosses and off a tee. Yet he suffered a setback and hasn't been allowed to do anything beyond light exercise since.

After Monday's MRI, the Rockies transferred Helton to the 60-day DL. He is eligible to return on Sept. 1, but the Rockies aren't speculating on when -- or whether -- he will be back.

"We had originally set a time frame that if he weren't a little better, we were going to do this, because [Watkins] is pretty much the best of the best," Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger said.

Bringing in Watkins does not necessarily mean surgery is in Helton's immediate future. Watkins will study the information, then determine if he needs to see Helton personally, Dugger said.

Helton originally suffered from soft tissue damage in the middle of his back late in the 2002 season. In the years since, Helton has tried various exercise programs for strength and flexibility to keep back problems from knocking him off the field.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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