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Spine Surgery: How NFL Athletes Returned to Play After the Surgery

The majority of the National Football League (NFL) players who had spine surgery returned to play and perform at a high level. After the spine surgery, an exercise-conditioning program helped them to return to their daily activities.

We list some examples of spine surgeries performed in NFL athletes to serve as an example to your daily activity.
 tony romo

The Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys – Quarterback, Microdiscectomy
Romo suffered from a herniated disc as a result from a pinched nerve, causing intense leg pain. In 2013 he went to surgery in order to correct the problem.

When a patient has a symptoms caused by an herniated disc, the disc itself is not painful, but rather the the soft inner gel that is leaking out of its inside nerve. He was submit to a microdiscectomy, a surgery that intends to remove a small portion of the bone over the nerve root. The patient, most of the times gets better from six to twelve weeks.

After the spine surgery, it appeared to have been quite successful. Romo was able to participate in light off-season workouts and has played in preseason games since then, although he did sit out the first preseason game.

Spine Surgery NFL Athletes

Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts – Running Back, and the bulging disc on his neck
Bradshaw was forced to sit back from October to the rest of the season of 2013 to get himself into a procedure to remove the bulging disc and fuse the two vertebrae together.

A bulging disc is the result of combining the aging process and the degeneration process of the intervertebral disc. it is not necessarily a sign that anything serious is happening to the spine, but it sure made Bradshaw hold on sports, for a while. The success rate for this type of surgery is about 95 to 98% in terms of providing relief in the neck pain and it can be done a number of different ways, such as:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and spine fusion (ACDF), which is the most common method among spine surgeries. The disc is removed and the space left out is fused. You can decide to put on a plate to ensure a better fusion rate.
  • Posterior cervical discectomy, it is considered the most reasonable choice but you need to be careful, it is also the most difficult, because of the amount of veins in this area. That can result in a lot of bleeding and it limits the visualization during the surgery procedure.
  • Cervical artificial disk replacement, similar to ACDF, this procedure involves removing the disc through a small incision in the front of the neck, but instead of a fusion, the disc is replaced by an artificial one and placed in the removed disc space. 

Although the recovery procedure for this kind of surgeries turn out to be quite simple, Bradshaw was only able to return to practice, late 2014. The recovery process was long and quite slow but the outcomes in terms of reducing the patient’s pain were successful as expected.

Spine Surgery NFL

David Wilson, New York Giants – Running Back, and his spinal stenosis
Wilson was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. He had to rest for the rest of the season 2013.

Stenosis, means the abnormal narrowing of a body channel. This term combined with the word “spinal” defines a narrowing of the bone channel occupied by the spinal nerves or the spinal cord.

In January of 2014 he had to be submitted to a spinal fusion and after that, Wilson was cleared to play in July. However, following suffer from a neck burner, right when he was back on track, in a set of a lot of alarms, the doctors ended up advising him to retire to avoid risk of further injury. Wilson retired at 23.

The biggest risk of back surgery is not knowing for sure if that is going to help your patient or not. The best thing you can do is talk openly with them so they know what is going on with their health and the back surgery outcomes so they know what to expect.


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