How Do NFL Players Recover From Spine Injuries?
NCAA football season has arrived with all its fans, thrills, and injuries. Each year, scholastic football endures almost 15 catastrophic cervical spine injuries. That’s a rate of four injuries for every 100,000 players. That said, the situation does come with a little hope. A study by Wolters Kluwer Health found that most NFL players who undergo upper cervical spine surgery for herniated discs recover and move on to enjoy another season -- three seasons, in fact, with performance comparable to athletes who have not sustained these types of injuries.
CDH Surgery and the NFL
The study surveyed 53 players who’d had the life-changing surgery between 1979 and 2017. 15 had upper spine herniation and 25 had lower level injuries. Nine months after the procedure, between 67 and 72% of the players had returned to the game. Of those who’d had spinal fusion, four required further surgery. Of the six who had less invasive ACDF surgery, half needed more treatments. Researchers believe that professional athletes should receive treatments tailored to their desire to return to high-performance athletics.
Cervical Spine Surgeries
Minimally invasive percutaneous cervical disc nucleoplasties are effective in 81% of patients. 95 to 98% of non-players who undergo the procedure enjoy excellent results, which underlines the importance of post-operative care. Football players in the Kluwer study returned to the field only nine months after their procedures, which may not be long enough for the bone to mature and solidify.
It’s recommended that patients get back to exercise once the fusion has set, and a reconditioning program is needed to gradually introduce stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise. While some patients can begin training six months after the procedure, every case should be treated as unique. Full recovery usually occurs at between 12 and 18 months.