Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Lower Spine News

A Model for Effectively Returning Athletes with Disc Problems Back to Sports

Everyone wants to get "back to normal" after a bout with back pain. Athletes are especially eager to return to play after back surgery. This study may give some help to professional and Olympic athletes.

This study looked at 59 athletes who had a microscopic lumbar discectomy (MLD) for a herniated disc in the low back. MLD removes any loose pieces of the disc with only a tiny incision. Part of the bone and nearby ligament may be removed if the disc is pinching the spinal nerve root.

All the athletes had an intensive rehab program that started a few weeks after the operation. Physical therapists and sports trainers showed the patients stabilization exercises. The focus of the program was to hold the spine in the middle, or "neutral," position.

Once the spine was stable, exercises were added to gain control in balance, coordination, and strength. There were five levels of trunk stabilizing exercises. Each level moved up in intensity. Athletes also did aerobic exercises that built up in intensity. Then athletes began a series of exercises to regain skill in their sport.

This study shows that MLD plus a rehab program gets athletes back to a high level of sports competition. This faster return to preinjury level of play is especially important in seasonal sports.


Robert G. Watkins, IV, MD, et al. Microscopic Lumbar Discectomy Results for 60 Cases in Professional and Olympic Athletes. In The Spine Journal. March/April 2003. Vol. 3. No. 2. Pp. 100-105.

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*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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