Background: Management of lumbar disc herniation in athletes is challenging because a prolonged period of postoperative rehabilitation prevents the athlete from participating in sporting activity, resulting in loss of competitive form. No study reporting the clinical results of microendoscopic discectomy (MED) in athletes was identified in a literature search through PubMed, in spite of the relatively long history of this treatment. The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of MED for athletes, focusing on their ability to quickly resume their sports activity.
Methods: Twenty-five competitive athletes, who underwent MED participated in this study. The level of sporting activity patients were capable of achieving, and the time until complete return to competitive level were assessed. The Japanese Orthopaedic Association (JOA) score and short form 36 (SF-36) were also evaluated.
Results: Two patients did not return to sporting activity for reasons unrelated to the lumbar diseases. Among the remaining 23 cases, 19 (82.6 %) successfully returned to their original levels of sporting activity. One patient (4.4 %) could not return to his pre-injury level of sporting activity because of residual pain. He changed his field from a high school sports team to a low-level sports society. The mean period until complete return to competition was 10.8 weeks (range 5-16 weeks). Three patients (13.0 %) could not resume sporting activity because of residual pain. The mean improvement rate of JOA score at final follow-up was 80.4 %. Significant improvements in SF-36 were observed in all subscales except in general health perceptions.
Conclusions: MED is a well-balanced technique which offers a high probability of return and an early return to the same level of sporting activity, both of which are optimal aims in treatment of athletes with lumbar disc herniation.