Atherton is still regarded as England's most influential player Down Under despite stepping down as captain last winter and speculation about the extent of his injury began when he did not take the field during the Queensland innings in the current warm-up game.
Both the England coach, David Lloyd, and the physio, Wayne Morton, attempted to make light of the complaint, but admitted it was "a worry" with the first Test imminent. Hick was contacted promptly and will join the rest of the squad in Brisbane on Wednesday.
The surprise phone call from the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, represents the latest in a long line of second chances for the prolific but enigmatic Worcestershire batsman. He was placed on standby for the Ashes tour after narrowly missing out to John Crawley in the selection for the 17-man party.
Hick, who scored a century against Sri Lanka on his last Test appearance in August, said: "Although as stand-by I knew something like this could happen, the call came as a surprise, but a nice one all the same.
"I know I'm going out as cover just in case any other injury doubts crop up and at the moment I don't know how long I'll be with the squad. But however long I'm there, it will be nicer practising outdoors than in the cold of an English winter."
But the speed of the call to Worcester indicates the need of the selectors to provide an insurance policy for their most respected and feared batsman - even if Graveney attempted to shrug off the importance.
"Michael's back condition is well-documented and there is no suggestion at this stage that he will be forced out of the tour through injury," he said.
Atherton faces early exit,