- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There was a time last season when Dwight Howard could not do a calf raise and stand up on his toes. Pain shot down through his left leg. It felt "dead," he said. Bending over meant risking not being able to stand back up.
That's how bad his back was injured during his final season with the Orlando Magic. But because of all the negative attention surrounding him and his desire to be traded, Howard said he played with that herniated disk in his back far longer than he should have.
"What a lot of people don't know is, when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg went dead," Howard said in a revelatory interview after practicing with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. "Basically, I couldn't do a calf raise.
"There was a practice where I couldn't even bend over. I just felt it all the way down my leg. That's when I knew something was wrong. The doctor said, 'If you can't do a calf raise, you need to have surgery.' And I couldn't do it."
Howard said he had felt discomfort and pain in his back for most of the year, but decided to keep it "in house" because of all the drama surrounding his situation.
"With all the stuff that was going on," he said, "I didn't want anybody thinking I was quitting on my team or thinking about doing that. But it just got worse. And instead of sitting out, I wanted to keep playing to show everybody I was still with the team."
Eventually, though, the pain got to be too much. He went under the knife and doctors told him the best-case scenario was a five-month rehabilitation.
"I went to see the doctor right before I got traded," Howard said. "And he said, 'Most guys don't recover as fast as you did. Especially when it affects the nerve down your leg. It usually takes a year for your leg to regain strength.'
"But by the grace of God, my leg was able to come back as fast as it did. That surprised me and the doctor and a lot of people."
Howard has been able to participate almost fully in Lakers practices during training camp, but has yet to suit up for an exhibition game. He's been told conditioning is the most important thing at this point because "once you're fatigued, that's when injuries start to come."
Although he looks to be at full strength, Howard said he needs to be cautious because he was only able to start running again right before training camp.
"It took about two months to get my leg strength back," he said. "Then it was working on my core so I could move. I didn't really start running until close to training camp. Everything else was more of a fast walk."
While the process was long and arduous, Howard said he steadied himself by leaning on his faith.
"It was very tough to deal with, but I just felt like something big was about to happen," he said. "A blessing or something was going to come my way. I was trying to turn all the negative things that were going on into a positive.
"And the first big step in all this was getting traded to the Lakers."
17hMatt Walks, ESPN.com