Getting Football Players Back on the Field

Lumbar disc herniations effectively treated with epidural steroid injections

(RxWiki News) You've seen it happen many times, from the safety of your couch. You're watching football, and a tough tackle lands a player flat on his back. But the next game, he's back in action.

How does a football player with a common lower back injury – a lumbar disc herniation – get back on the field?

A new study examining professional American football players has found that epidural steroid injections has a high success rate in returning athletes to play after an injury.

"Epidural steroid injections are safe and effective for lumbar disc herniations."

The study was led by Dr. Aaron J. Krych of the Mayo Clinic, and presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine 2012 Specialty Day Meeting.

Lumbar disc herniation is caused by a degeneration of a disc in the lower back, which fit between the vertebrae of the spine. Discs are what allow the spine to move and flex, and act as shock absorbers for the spine.

A disc is said to be herniated when the disc has degenerated to the point of the inner core bulging or leaking out. The injury can happen gradually or from a traumatic injury.

Athletes whose sports demand a lot of flexing, rotating and extension of the spine are at high risk for lumbar disc herniations. Contact sports can be especially jarring for the spine.

Depending on the injury herniated discs can heal over a few weeks or require surgery. But for football players there's a pressure to get back onto the field to complete the season.

Epidural steroid injections are a common treatment for these types of injury. They can provide pain relief from a week to a year, and can help an athlete continue to exercise and rehabilitate the injury.

Dr. Krych's study examined 17 football players from one professional team over a period of seven years. Their goal was to find how efficient epidural steroid injections were for returning players to the field.

They treated mostly offensive and defensive linemen, and performed 37 injections. They considered the treatment to be successful if the athletes could play with not much time missed, and did not require surgical follow up.

They found that injections were 89 percent successful by these measures. Additionally, Dr. Krych said there are few side effects for athletes who do not have neurological deficits. The treatment can help football players get into physical therapy earlier, and reduce the time it takes to recover into playing condition. If injections don't work, surgery is often required.

The results of the study may also be applicable to non-professional football players. Lumbar disc herniations are common in gymnasts, and can occur in everyday situations like lifting a heavy object. Discs may also degenerate with age. Epidural steroid injections are also used in these situations to reduce pain and move a patient toward recovery.