Cervical Herniated Discs in NFL Football Players. Surgical vs. non-surgical treatment.

A message from Dr. Jack Stern about playing football with a herniated disc:

Because of all the media attention to football players and concussions, I was wondering what there is in the medical literature that might guide us in terms of decision making on football players who develop herniated discs. I did find a very interesting paper in the Spine Journal from 2011. It was a retrospective study of lead athletes of the NFL (National Football League) who had developed cervical disc herniation. The results actually surprised me and in just a few sentences, I would say that when the two cohorts, surgical versus nonsurgical were compared, the patients who had surgery did better. 72% of players who had surgery successfully returned to play for an average of 29 games over almost three-year period whereas those who did not have surgery, the non-operative group, only 46% of those players successfully returned to the field for 15 games on an average of 1.5 years. Of note also is the fact that defensive backs had the poorest prognosis after cervical disc herniations compared with players of all other positions. I usually think of defensive backs are the smallest, quickest players on the field, but I guess they are also most likely to have a lasting injury of this kind.

Related Resources:

  • Non-surgical treatment for herniated disc in the neck
  • Surgical options for a herniated disc
  • The 5 Hour Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery