Background context: There is no documented information indicating time for return to play after lumbar discectomy in professional and Olympic athletes.
Purpose: To determine the rate of return to sport and the average time of recovery in elite athletes undergoing microscopic lumbar discectomy (MLD).
Study design: Between 1984 and 1998, the senior author performed 60 MLDs on 59 professional and Olympic athletes with lumbar herniated nucleus pulposus.
Patient sample: Sixty consecutive MLDs performed on professional and Olympic athletes were reviewed.
Outcome measures: The rate of return and the average time to return to sport were determined. Also, the distribution of pain and presence of neurologic deficits were recorded.
Methods: A retrospective review was performed.
Results: Follow-up indicated that all but 7 of the 60 cases had returned to their sport, including one who underwent a second MLD for a herniation at an adjacent level. The average time from surgery to return was 5.2 months for the entire group, with a range of 1 to 15 months.
Conclusion: MLD was effective in correcting the problems that forced the athletes to seek help, and the time to return often depends on factors other than their medical condition. Postoperatively, a complete trunk stabilization rehabilitation program was effective in returning these athletes to a high level of competition.