Atherton suffers from a hereditary condition known as ankylosing spondylitis, which cripples tens of thousands of people in Britain and also ended the football career of his father Alan. He had a spinal operation nine years ago to cure the complaint, although frequent recurrences have plagued him ever since.
Given the back trouble throughout his Test career, Morton believes Atherton's successes will be respected all the more when he decides his appetite for the game is no longer enough of a motivation.
"He bats in an awful lot of discomfort," Morton said. "I'm sure when he goes out of the game he will be thought of by other people and his peers as a little bit of a hero after the kind of discomfort he has played in."
The latest setback followed cortisone injections in Adelaide to enable him to play in the drawn game against South Australia, but their failure to provide nothing more than temporary relief prompted Morton to set up an appointment with the renowned back specialist Bill Ryan here yesterday.
Atherton was given a further injection and scan in a separate area of the back in an attempt to determine the nature of the problem and if that fails to work, further rehabilitation and rest followed by another injection could be required.
"We hope we will establish a cure rather than just a temporary relief with the injection," explained Morton, who joined England's casualty list by dislocating his right shoulder during a light fielding practice. "We were hoping initially that we would not have to progress to stage two, but as he is obviously suffering a little we thought we would give it a go and see if we could actually knock it on the head while we are down here."
However, Atherton is not the only casualty occupying Morton in the days leading up to the start of the Ashes series, following the attack on John Crawley in Cairns on Sunday which resulted in the Lancashire batsman suffering cuts and bruises. "It's a very unfortunate incident which John regrets and is embarrassed about, but it is a sign of the times and it does happen in the world," said Morton. "You get an innocent walking down the street and an idiot decides to give him a smack. That's exactly what happened and no more than that. It's a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's got away lightly because those sort of incidents can turn nasty and he's got away with some bad facial cuts, but hopefully no long-term scars."
Graham Gooch, the England manager, added: "John wants to forget the incident, concentrate on his cricket and is looking forward to the big match here on Friday - we really don't want to keep bringing this up now, we want to divert all our energy and concentration into this Test match."
Australia go into this Ashes series as perhaps the most successful side in history, according to Wisden. They are top of the Wisden World Championship, which awards two points for winning a series and one for a draw, with 25 points out of a possible 28. By back-dating the records to 1952, when Pakistan began playing Tests, only Richie Benaud's Australian team of the early 1960s and the West Indians of the 1980s were found to have remotely comparable records.