TITLE: The outcome of lumbar discectomy in elite athletes.
AUTHORS: Wang JC; Shapiro MS; Hatch JD; Knight J; Dorey FJ, Delamarter RB
ABSTRACT: STUDY DESIGN: An outcomes assessment of 14 elite college athletes who had undergone lumbar disc surgery was performed using the SF-36, a validated questionnaire that assesses quality of life. OBJECTIVES: To determine the outcomes and results of lumbar disc surgery in an elite group of athletes and compare the results with those in the general population and in age-matched control subjects. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Lumbar disc surgery is reported to be a highly successful procedure with excellent results. The outcome in elite athletes has not been assessed and compared with population norms and age-matched control subjects. METHODS: Fourteen athletes from schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association with a mean age of 20.7, underwent lumbar discectomy for radiculopathy refractory to conservative treatment. Ten had a single-level microdiscectomy, three a two-level microdiscectomy, and one a percutaneous discectomy. Patients were evaluated at a mean follow-up of 3.1 years, underwent a detailed clinical evaluation, and filled out the SF-36 questionnaire. RESULTS: All 14 patients had improvement of pain with elimination of the radicular component, took less medication than before surgery, and returned to recreational sports. Nine patients, all with a single level microdiscectomy, returned to varsity sports. Five athletes prematurely retired from competitive sports because of continued symptoms. Three of the athletes who retired underwent two-level procedures, and one had a percutaneous discectomy. SF-36 scores for bodily pain, physical role, and social and mental health roles were significantly lower in those athletes who retired. Patient scores were also compared with those in a group of noninjured age-and sport-matched college athletes. There were no differences between injured and noninjured athletes, but both groups had scores significantly lower than normal values in an age-matched group for bodily pain, physical role, general health, and social function. CONCLUSIONS: All patients were satisfied with their surgeries, were greatly improved, and were pain free in activities of daily living. For a single-level microdiscectomy, the success rate in elite athletes is excellent, with 90% of athletes able to return to a high level of competition. Two-level disease may be associated with a less favorable outcome.
SOURCE: Spine 1999 Mar 15;24(6):570-3