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Does Surgery for Disc Herniation End NFL Careers?

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The game of professional football is a rough and tough sport, and many of the players experience career ending injuries. Recent studies done by Wellington K. Hsu, MD, have reported that these professional football athletes who have undergone surgery to repair the damage done to their backs now have a high rate of return to the game.

In his studies at the North American Spine Society, Dr. Hsu studied cervical disk herniation in football players. In an article on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website, he compared the results of surgery to non-surgical treatments. In some cases, players who had their injury treated with surgery were more likely to return to football than the players who opted for non-surgical methods.

This study revealed that 72 percent of the players who underwent surgery returned to play for a 2.8-year period after their procedures. Non-surgical methods resulted in less than half of the patients returning to the game over a one-and-a-half year period.

Some examples of the players who have gone through this type of surgery and returned to the game include:

  • Tony Romo from the Cowboys underwent surgery in 2013. In the 2014 football season, he was re-injured after a knee to the back. He returned to the game and continues to be active in the NFL.
  • Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers underwent surgery in 2012. He retired from football in 2014.
  • Keion Carpenter from Buffalo and Atlanta returned to play for three years after having his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused together.
  • Peyton Manning had surgery on his neck in 2011, as well as a spinal fusion surgery. He was released by the Colts in 2011 and returned to football in 2012 for the Broncos. He is currently still one of the most revered and feared quarterbacks in the NFL.

Although a neck or back injury is a serious condition, modern surgical techniques have allowed NFL players to return to the game and continue to play for years following their recoveries. A spinal injury is no longer a death sentence for a football career.

Please note: By clicking on the player’s name, you will be directed to the source of our information.