Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

My favorite major league baseball pitcher is out on medical leave. The only thing I could find out on-line was that the problem is a herniation in the neck. What are the chances he'll make it back this season?

Answer:

Baseball pitchers are always at increased risk of shoulder and neck injuries compared with other players. The high-speed, twisting motions required with each and every pitch multiplied by hundreds of pitches during practice and games can put quite a torsional strain and load on discs. For those reasons, disc herniations are not uncommon in this group. Getting back to normal function and level of performance expected in major league ball can be a challenge. But the overall prognosis is good. These kinds of injuries are not an automatic ticket into retirement for most pitchers. In fact, a recent review of the public record on major league baseball pitchers experiencing disc herniations, the treatment, and recovery gave a very optimistic report. Out of the 40 pitchers reported with cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) disc herniations, 88 per cent of the players treated for a cervical disk herniation and 100 per cent of the players with a lumbar disc herniation returned to a preinjury level of play after surgical treatment. That's the good news. The downside of those statistics is that it took anywhere from seven to 12 months for the players to rehab and return. So although it's possible to return to sports action in the same season as the injury, the experience of other players in similar situations suggest it might not happen. In the meantime, don't be swayed by what you hear or read from sports writers. They seem to reflect a negative prognosis despite medical reports that recovery from disc herniations is possible and even very likely in elite sports athletes. David W. Roberts MD, et al. Outcomes of Cervical and Lumbar Disk Herniations in Major League Baseball Pitchers. In Orthopedics. August 2011. Vol. 34. No. 8. Pp. 602-609.

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