Keeping You in the Know: Disc Herniations in Athletes

Brett Winchester, DC

March 22, 2021

We treat numerous athletes in the office with various extremity and low back issues. There have been times when our athletes tell us they have or had a disc herniation. A disc herniation is when the discs in between our spinal segments are creating irritation on a nerve root, which can cause pain, loss of function and other neurological symptoms, but not always. There are surgical and nonsurgical options as treatment for this common complaint. However, research suggests that surgical intervention may only provide short term relief and decrease the recovery rate. Another study suggests that imaging is not always necessary, for almost 70% of symptomatic patients improve with a few weeks of conservative care.

When looking at athletes, they have a higher prevalence rate for disc degeneration and injury due to the physical demand they put on themselves. Yes, surgical procedures are needed at times, but we want to do the best we can conservatively to keep you playing the game you love and not setting you back.

According to the article cited below, a systemic review compared the findings for return to play in elite athletes. There were 799 patients in the operative group who underwent some type of procedure due to a disc herniation and 308 patients in the nonoperative group who underwent physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Findings showed 83% of the operative group successfully returned to play, as well as 81.5% from the nonoperative group. When comparing return to play rates with no symptoms, the mean time for the operative group was 5.19 months and 4.11 months for the nonoperative group. However, 35% of the reviewed studies reported complications prior to surgical treatment. This study revealed that there is no statistical difference between the return to play rates in both groups. Based on this info, it is safe to say that operative care does not have faster return to play then non-operative management. 

Given this info, athletes should consider conservative care after injury since return to play rates show no significant difference. We are confident we can keep these athletes on the field and court through many of our treatment options!

One of the techniques we use for disc injuries is the Mckenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy! Catch the post next week on this…

Phelopater Sedrak, Mustafa Shahbaz. “Return to Play after Symptomatic Lumbar Disc Herniation in Elite Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of OPERATIVE Versus Nonoperative Treatment – Phelopater Sedrak, Mustafa SHAHBAZ, Chetan GOHAL, Kim Madden, Ilyas ALEEM, MOIN Khan, 2021.” Web. 22 Mar. 2021.

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