Return to Play for Cervical and Lumbar Spine Conditions

Clin Sports Med. 2021 Jul;40(3):555-569. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2021.04.002.


Although the safety of contact sports has improved over the years, participation in any sport always carries a risk of injury. When cervical or lumbar spine injuries do occur, prompt diagnosis is essential, and athletes must be held out of the sport if indicated to prevent further harm and allow for recovery. This article highlights some of the most common cervical spine pathologies (stinger/burners, strain, stenosis/cord neuropraxia, disc herniation, and fracture/instability) and lumbar spine pathologies (strain, disc degeneration, disc herniation, fracture, spondylolysis/spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis) encountered in sports and reviews the associated return to play guidelines and expectations for each condition.

Keywords: Athlete; Cervical spine; Lumbar spine; Return to play; Spinal cord injury; Sports.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Return to Sport*
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Diseases / therapy*