What Are The Things Football Players Wear On Their Arms What About Disc Surgery?

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What About Disc Surgery?

Have you ever heard a horror story about back or neck surgery that somehow went horribly wrong and made things worse? Alternatively, do you know someone who has done extremely well after spinal surgery, achieving symptom relief and a return to enjoyable activities? Disc surgery of the lower back or neck has long been the gold standard for improving function and pain in those patients with herniated discs. However, there are good and bad results that can result from any surgery. With this in mind, what can be expected after disc surgery?

As a backdrop, the discs in the neck or lower back are the cartilage-filled joints that allow our spine to move. As with any other mechanical part, these joints can wear out or break, putting pressure on nearby nerves. These “pinched nerves” can cause pain in the arm or leg that can be quite severe. Pinched nerves can usually be treated with oral or injected anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, traction, and rest.

When nerve pain is not relieved by these conservative methods, surgery is considered to relieve the pain. The basic concept of the surgery is to remove the offending disc piece so it does not pinch the nerve. Only the part of the disc that is pressing on the nerve is removed, not the entire disc. Even with large disc herniations, most surgeries only remove 10-20% of the disc. This leaves enough space on the disc for the vertebrae to move and prevents them from rubbing against each other.

Over the past 10 years, many improvements have been made in the technology used and approaches for spinal disc surgery. Surgical incisions are now generally about 1 inch long compared to the 3-inch incision in the past. Incision sites are now injected with a numbing agent after surgery to greatly reduce postoperative pain. The surgery itself takes 30 to 45 minutes (previously 90 minutes) and most patients wake up after surgery with no leg or arm pain. The only restriction after surgery is a limitation on lifting during the first 6 weeks of recovery. In our more athletic patients, we allow them to return to conditioning during the 6-week recovery period. After 6 weeks, there are no restrictions and patients can return to their normal daily activities, as well as their normal sports activities.

Several studies have evaluated the effects of disc surgery on the patient’s ability to return to normal activities. The most recent study involved disc surgery performed on a professional NFL football lineman in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. As linemen are the largest football players, in addition to suffering the most back strain during play, these athletes may be completely incapable of a high level of performance, even with mild back pain. This recent study found that of the 52 players treated with surgery, 81 percent returned to play professional soccer. Of the 36 starting linemen who had surgery, 33 returned to their starting position on their professional football team. So for those of us who don’t stress our backs like professional soccer players, we should be back to normal activities very quickly and with high levels of satisfaction about our recovery. There were no complications in any of these patients. The complication rate in disc surgery nationwide is less than 1%. Unfortunately, when complications do occur, these patients can take 3-6 months to recover.

More than 90% of patients will improve after a herniated disc with medications, injections, and physical therapy. However, with the progress of the surgery and better recovery, there is no need to live with the pain of a herniated disc. It is important that you see a highly qualified and trained spine specialist for diagnosis and effective treatment. Leveraging today’s technology and the expertise of a skilled orthopedist, herniated disc patients can get back to life faster than ever AND with improved function and complete pain relief.

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