Blue Jackets winger Nathan Horton will probably never play another NHL game, stricken by a mysterious degenerative back injury that has made hockey impossible, and will probably require career-ending surgery if Horton hopes to live a pain-free life. It's a sad, shitty thing to happen to anyone, let alone a 29-year-old who was never not a very good hockey player when he was healthy.

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch has the story on Horton, and it's depressing for how quickly and inexorable the end of his career has advanced. It began last fall, Horton says, with some stiffness and discomfort and just got worse and worse, no matter what he did to try and fix it.

Stem cells. Epidurals. Acupuncture. Chiropractors. Massage therapy. So many MRIs.

"I've tried everything," Horton said. "I've seen so many doctors. So many people think they can fix me and they're so optimistic, and then I get optimistic, but then … nothing changes. It's so frustrating."

Horton was the third overall pick by the Panthers in 2003, and put up 203 goals and 218 assists in 627 games with Florida, Boston, and Columbus. He lifted the Cup with the Bruins in 2011, and is in just the second year of a seven-year deal with the Blue Jackets. But he hasn't played since last April, when he suffered a groin injury caused by changing his stride to compensate for his back. His and the Blue Jackets' only option since then has been to wait, and to hope against probability that whatever's gone wrong with Horton's spine spontaneously repairs itself.

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Barring that? Surgery, which would include implanting a titanium rod to fuse three or four of Horton's lumbar vertebrae. It'd fix the pain, and prevent Horton from playing top-level sports ever again. It's his choice, and but as he says, "at some point soon, we've got to make the call."

"I don't want to have surgery, because of what that means," Horton said, his voice breaking behind a smile. "I don't want to live with this pain, but I don't want to make that decision. It's hard for me to say that, at 29 years old, I'm done. I mean, really? Done at 29?"

[Columbus Dispatch]