The prevalence of symptomatic lumbar disc herniation (LDH) in athletes can be as high as 75%. For elite athletes diagnosed with LDH, return to play (RTP) is a major concern, and thus comparing surgical with nonoperative care is essential to guide practitioners and athletes, not just in terms of recovery rates but also speed of recovery.
The purpose of this systematic review is to provide an update on RTP outcomes for elite athletes after lumbar discectomy versus nonoperative treatment of LDHs.
A search of the literature was conducted using 3 online databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PubMed) to identify pertinent studies.
Yielded studies were screened according to the inclusion criteria.
Systematic review with meta-analysis.
Level of Evidence:
Relevant data were extracted. A meta-analysis was performed comparing RTP rate for all comparative studies.
Twenty studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in this review. Overall, 663 out of 799 patients (83.0%) returned to play in the surgical group and 251 out of 308 patients (81.5%) returned to play in the nonoperative group. No statistically significant difference for RTP rate was found (odds ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 0.58-3.34; P = 0.46; I2, 71%). The mean time to RTP for patients undergoing lumbar discectomy was 5.19 months (range 1.00-8.70 months), and 4.11 months (range 3.60-5.70 months) for those treated conservatively.
There was no significant difference in RTP rate between athletes treated with operative or nonoperative management of LDHs, nor did operative management have a faster time to RTP. Athletes should consider the lack of difference in RTP rate in addition to the potential risks associated with spinal surgery when choosing a treatment option. Future randomized controlled trials are needed on this topic to allow for high-powered conclusions.