A phased rehabilitation protocol for athletes with lumbar intervertebral disc herniation

Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Aug;8(4):482-516.


Conservative non-surgical management of a herniated lumbar intervertebral disc (HLD) in athletes is a complex task due to the dramatic forces imparted on the spine during sport participation. The demands placed upon the athlete during rehabilitation and return to sport are unique not only from a sport specific perspective, but also regarding return to the sport strength and conditioning programs utilized for sport preparation. Many prescriptions fail to address postural and motor control faults specific to athletic development, which may prevent full return to sport after suffering a HLD or predispose the athlete to future exacerbations of a HLD. Strength exercises involving squatting, deadlifting, and Olympic power lifts are large components of the typical athlete's conditioning program, therefore some progressions are provided to address potential underlying problems in the athlete's technique that may have contributed to their HLD in the first place. The purpose of this clinical commentary is to propose a framework for rehabilitation that is built around the phases of healing of the disc. Phase I: Non-Rotational/Non-Flexion Phase (Acute Inflammatory Phase), Phase II: Counter rotation/Flexion Phase (Repair Phase), Phase III: Rotational Phase/Power development (Remodeling Phase), and Phase IV: Full return to sport. This clinical commentary provides a theoretical basis for these phases based on available literature as well as reviewing many popular current practice trends in the management of an HLD. The authors recognize the limits of any general exercise rehabilitation recommendation with regard to return to sport, as well as any general strength and conditioning program. It is vital that an individual assessment and prescription is made for every athlete which reviews and addresses movement in all planes of motion under all necessary extrinsic and intrinsic demands to that athlete.

Level of evidence: 5.

Keywords: Athletes; herniated lumbar disc; rehabilitation.