Objective: It is currently unknown how a lumbar disk herniation (LDH) impacts a professional athlete's performance and/or career. No studies have evaluated the effects of LDH on National Football League (NFL) skill position players. Our objective was to determine if NFL athletes who sustain an LDH and subsequently undergo discectomy can return to competitive play with no significant effects on performance.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: National Football League.
Patients: During a 22-year period (1986-2008), offensive skill position players in the NFL (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends) who sustained an LDH and subsequently underwent a lumbar discectomy were included in this study.
Intervention: Lumbar discectomy.
Main outcome measures: Performance-based outcomes were analyzed, and data were recorded for games played, yards gained, and touchdowns scored.
Results: : Data were analyzed for 23 NFL offensive skill position players who had an LDH and underwent discectomy. Seventy-four percent of players returned to competitive play in the NFL. The average length of career after treatment was 36 games over a 4.1-year period. There was no significant difference in performance when comparing pre-injury and post-injury statistics.
Conclusions: Although an LDH has career-threatening implications for NFL athletes, 74% of players who underwent lumbar discectomy returned to competitive play in the NFL. There was no significant change in performance when comparing pre-injury and post-injury statistics.