Lumbar Disk Problems in the Athlete Follow-up

Updated: May 17, 2017
  • Author: Luis E Palacio, MD; Chief Editor: Sherwin SW Ho, MD  more...
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Return to Play

Percutaneous discectomy requires at least 2-3 months of postoperative rest.

Microdiscectomy requires 6-8 weeks of rest for noncontact sports, and at least 3 months of rest (typically 4-6 months) for contact sports. Athletes are less likely to return to play when multiple disc levels are affected. Return to play for single-level microdiscectomy has been reported to be 90%. [11]

Return to play after spinal fusion is controversial. Some authors suggest no return to play at the professional or collegiate level for contact sports after spinal fusion. Others utilize criteria for return to contact sports to include the following [11] :

  • At least 1 year following surgery

  • Evidence of solid fusion

  • Resolution of pain

  • Full strength

  • Pain-free ROM

  • Full endurance



Complications of lumbar disc problems include prolonged or permanent nerve symptoms, chronic pain, and inability to return to sports.



Avoidance of injury can be achieved through proper education, use of proper body mechanics, and appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises. Smoking cessation, weight control, and maintaining an active lifestyle can also be helpful.



95% of athletes have symptom resolution within 4 weeks, and 95% of those with lumbar disc problems return to play fully recovered.

A history of LBP is the greatest predictor for future episodes by up to a 3-fold increased risk; active LBP increases the risk of recurrence by 6 fold.



Coaches, trainers, gym classes, pamphlets, and team and/or primary care physicians should provide education on how to avoid lumbar disk injuries.

For excellent patient education resources, see eMedicineHealth's patient education articles Slipped Disk and Back Pain.