The impact of a cervical spine diagnosis on the careers of national football league athletes

Gregory D. Schroeder*, T. Sean Lynch, Daniel B. Gibbs, Ian Chow, Mark W. Labelle, Alpesh A. Patel, Jason W. Savage, Gordon W. Nuber, Wellington K. Hsu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


STUDY DESIGN.: Cohort study. OBJECTIVE.: To determine the effect of cervical spine pathology on athletes entering the National Football League. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA.: The association of symptomatic cervical spine pathology with American football athletes has been described; however, it is unknown how preexisting cervical spine pathology affects career performance of a National Football League player. METHODS.: The medical evaluations and imaging reports of American football athletes from 2003 to 2011 during the combine were evaluated. Athletes with a cervical spine diagnosis were matched to controls and career statistics were compiled. RESULTS.: Of a total of 2965 evaluated athletes, 143 players met the inclusion criteria. Athletes who attended the National Football League combine without a cervical spine diagnosis were more likely to be drafted than those with a diagnosis (P = 0.001). Players with a cervical spine diagnosis had a decreased total games played (P = 0.01). There was no difference in the number of games started (P = 0.08) or performance score (P = 0.38). In 10 athletes with a sagittal canal diameter of less than 10 mm, there was no difference in years, games played, games started, or performance score (P > 0.24). No neurological injury occurred during their careers. In 7 players who were drafted with a history of cervical spine surgery (4 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, 2 foraminotomy, and 1 suboccipital craniectomy with a C1 laminectomy), there was no difference in career longevity or performance when compared with matched controls. CONCLUSION.: This study suggests that athletes with preexisting cervical spine pathology were less likely to be drafted than controls. Players with preexisting cervical spine pathology demonstrated a shorter career than those without; however, statistically based performance and numbers of games started were not different. Players with cervical spinal stenosis and those with a history of previous surgery demonstrated no difference in performance-based outcomes and no reports of neurological injury during their careers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)947-952
Number of pages6
Issue number12
StatePublished - May 20 2014


  • American football
  • National Football League
  • absolute stenosis
  • anterior cervical discectomy and fusion
  • cervical spine
  • cervical stenosis
  • collision sports
  • herniated disc
  • neurological injury
  • preexisting cervical spine pathology
  • spondylosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology

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