Return-to-play rates in national football league linemen after treatment for lumbar disk herniation

Joseph K. Weistroffer, Wellington K. Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: There is a paucity of evidence demonstrating clinical outcomes of high-end athletes sustaining a treatment for lumbar disk herniation. Purpose: To evaluate the ability of a National Football League lineman to return to play after lumbar diskectomy. Study Design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4. Methods: National Football League offensive and defensive linemen diagnosed with a lumbar disk herniation were identified by previously published protocols using multiple sources of the public record. Demographic and statistical performance data were compiled for each player both before and after treatment. Results: A total of 66 linemen (36 offensive and 30 defensive) met the inclusion criteria. Fifty-two were treated surgically, and 14 were treated nonsurgically. On average, this group had a body mass index of 35.4 and was 27.6 years old. Of those players treated surgically, 80.8% (42/52) successfully returned to play an average of 33 games over 3.0 years, with 63.5% (33/52) becoming starters after treatment. Conversely, only 28.6% (4/14) of linemen successfully returned to play after nonoperative intervention, which was significantly lower than those treated with a diskectomy (P <.05). Of the linemen in the surgical cohort, 13.5% (7/ 52) required revision decompression, and 85.7% (6/7) of these players successfully returned to play. Conclusion: National Football League linemen have high return-to-play rates after lumbar diskectomy. Furthermore, because those linemen requiring revision decompression successfully returned to play 85.7% of the time, this cohort should not be denied surgical treatment after recurrent problems. Although the data in our study suggest that National Football League linemen who are treated surgically have superior outcomes to those treated nonoperatively, because of the limitations with the methodology used in this study, further prospective studies are necessary to accurately compare treatment effects and to determine the long-term prognosis for these athletes after retirement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)632-636
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011


  • National Football League
  • diskectomy
  • elite athlete
  • lumbar disk herniation
  • outcomes
  • return to play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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