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Clin Sports Med. 2012 Jul;31(3):487-98. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2012.03.006. Epub 2012 Apr 10.

Lumbar spine surgery in athletes:: outcomes and return-to-play criteria.

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  • 1Division of Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5328, USA.


Surgical treatment of lumbar spine conditions in athletes can produce excellent outcomes. Professional and competitive athletes participating in both noncontact and contact sports can return to their preinjury level of performance and have successful careers after lumbar discectomy for LDH. NFL players, especially offensive and defensive linemen, may experience greater improvement with lumbar discectomy than nonoperative treatment. Athletes who undergo direct pars repair for spondylolysis or grade I spondylolisthesis may be able to return to sports but their participation level may vary. Athletes and military personnel who undergo lumbar TDR are capable of returning to rigorous activities, including contact and extreme sports and unrestricted full-service military duty. Distal fusion level may be an independent negative predictor of successful RTP after posterior spinal fusion for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. There is great variability in published RTP criteria, which are based primarily on authors’ opinions and experience. Athletes must demonstrate resolution of preoperative symptoms, full range of motion, and successful completion of a structured rehabilitation program before returning to play. Physicians must ultimately base their decision to release an athlete back to sport on each individual’s condition and on the chosen sport.

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