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Operative and Nonoperative Treatment of Cervical Disc Herniation in National Football League Athletes.

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Operative and Nonoperative Treatment of Cervical Disc Herniation in National Football League Athletes.

Am J Sports Med. 2013 Jun 20;

Authors: Meredith DS, Jones KJ, Barnes R, Rodeo SA, Cammisa FP, Warren RF

Abstract
BACKGROUND:Limited evidence exists to guide clinical decision making regarding cervical disc herniations in professional athletes playing for the National Football League (NFL) in the United States. PURPOSE:To describe the presentation and treatment outcomes of cervical disc herniations in NFL athletes with a focus on safety and return to sport. STUDY DESIGN:Case series; Level of evidence, 4. METHODS:The records of a single NFL team and its consulting physicians were reviewed from 2000 to 2011. Only athletes with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-proven disc herniation concordant with the reported symptoms were included. RESULTS:A total of 16 athletes met inclusion criteria. Linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs were the most represented positions (13/16 athletes; 81%). The most common presentation was radiculopathy after a single traumatic event (9/16 athletes; 56%). Three players had transient paresis. Three players underwent one-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. These 3 players had failed nonoperative therapy and had evidence of spinal cord compression with signal change on MRI, but only 1 returned to sport. Three players received epidural steroid injections, which provided transient symptomatic relief. Five players were treated nonoperatively and did not return to sport. Two of these 5 athletes had cord compression with signal change and retired rather than undergo surgery. The other 3 were cleared but were released by the team. Eight players were treated nonoperatively and returned to sport. Three of these 8 athletes had evidence of disc material abutting the cord without cord signal change but had a normal examination finding and returned to sport after resolution of their symptoms and repeat MRI that demonstrated no cord compression. Five of the 8 players had evidence of root compression and were treated symptomatically. There were no subsequent traumatic spinal cord injuries at a minimum of 1-year follow-up. CONCLUSION:Data regarding the treatment of this unique population are limited but suggest that NFL athletes can safely return to sport after the treatment of cervical disc herniations. In the treatment algorithm for this study, cord compression with signal change in the cord on MRI was a consistent operative indication. Discs abutting the cord can be treated nonoperatively but do not allow for return to sport until symptoms have improved and repeat imaging demonstrates no cord compression. Isolated nerve root compression has a more favorable prognosis. It can be treated symptomatically and return to sport allowed when symptoms permit.

PMID: 23788681 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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