Herniated Discs in Athletes: Causes, Treatment, and Return to Play

Herniated discs are a common injury among athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive bending, twisting, or lifting. Fair Lawn herniated disc can be debilitating and significantly impact an athlete’s ability to do sports. Here are some causes of herniated discs in athletes, the various treatment options available, and the best practices for returning to play after a herniated disc injury. 


The spine is made up of a series of vertebrae that are separated by cushioning discs. These discs are filled with a jelly-like substance that helps absorb shock and keep the spine flexible. When one of these discs becomes damaged, the jelly-like substance can leak out and pressure the nerves in the surrounding area. This injury is known as a herniated disc.

Many factors can contribute to the development of a herniated disc. One of the most common causes is repetitive stress on the spine. This can occur in sports that involve a lot of twisting and turning, such as golf, tennis, or basketball. Over time, this repetitive stress can cause the discs to weaken and become more susceptible to injury.

Another cause is trauma to the spine. This injury can occur from a fall or direct blow to the back. Athletes participating in contact sports, such as football or wrestling, are at a higher risk for this type of injury.


The treatment for a herniated disc will depend on the severity of the injury and the athlete’s needs. In some cases, conservative treatments may be enough to relieve pain and promote healing. These treatments may include rest, ice, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

More aggressive measures may be required if non-invasive methods fail to provide relief. For individuals suffering from herniated discs, spinal decompression surgery is a popular course of treatment. A surgeon will extract a part of the affected disc to alleviate the nerve compression in the nearby region. This surgery is reserved for athletes experiencing extreme discomfort or nerve impairment.


Returning to play after a herniated disc injury can be a slow process. Athletes will need to work closely with their medical team to develop a rehabilitation plan that meets their needs. This plan may include physical therapy and massage to promote healing and improve mobility.

Athletes should avoid activities that exacerbate their symptoms, such as bending the back. As symptoms improve, athletes can gradually incorporate more activities into their routines. These activities may include low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling before progressing to more strenuous activities.


Athletes should focus on maintaining strong core and back muscles through regular exercises such as planks and using resistance bands and stretching. These exercises can help reduce the risk of injury and improve overall performance.

Athletes should employ the proper technique when engaging in activities that strain the back, like weightlifting or swinging a golf club. Utilizing the correct form can lessen the pressure on their spine and avoid injury.

With medical intervention and preventive measures, athletes can manage and recover from herniated discs and safely continue to pursue their sports and fitness goals. Speak to an Alliance Spine Associates, LLC specialist to receive the right treatment plan for a herniated disc.

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