Return to sport after open and microdiscectomy surgery versus conservative treatment for lumbar disc herniation: a systematic review with meta-analysis.

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BACKGROUND: Lumbar disc herniation has a prevalence of up to 58% in the athletic population. Lumbar discectomy is a common surgical procedure to alleviate pain and disability in athletes. We systematically reviewed the current clinical evidence regarding athlete return to sport (RTS) following lumbar discectomy compared to conservative treatment. METHODS: A computer-assisted literature search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, PEDro, OVID and PubMed databases (from inception to August 2015) was utilised using keywords related to lumbar disc herniation and surgery. The design of this systematic review was developed using the guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). Methodological quality of individual studies was assessed using the Downs and Black scale (0-16 points). RESULTS: The search strategy revealed 14 articles. Downs and Black quality scores were generally low with no articles in this review earning a high-quality rating, only 5 articles earning a moderate quality rating and 9 of the 14 articles earning a low-quality rating. The pooled RTS for surgical intervention of all included studies was 81% (95% CI 76% to 86%) with significant heterogeneity (I(2)=63.4%, p<0.001) although pooled estimates report only 59% RTS at same level. Pooled analysis showed no difference in RTS rate between surgical (84% (95% CI 77% to 90%)) and conservative intervention (76% (95% CI 56% to 92%); p=0.33). CONCLUSIONS: Studies comparing surgical versus conservative treatment found no significant difference between groups regarding RTS. Not all athletes that RTS return at the level of participation they performed at prior to surgery. Owing to the heterogeneity and low methodological quality of included studies, rates of RTS cannot be accurately determined.





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Reiman, Michael P, Jonathan Sylvain, Janice K Loudon and Adam Goode (2016). Return to sport after open and microdiscectomy surgery versus conservative treatment for lumbar disc herniation: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 50(4). pp. 221–230. 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094691 Retrieved from

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Michael Patrick Reiman

Associate Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Reiman is a clinical & didactic teacher & researcher, physical therapist, athletic trainer and profession advocate with a long-term history of clinical care excellence and service. His passions include refining and improving the patient care and educational pedagogy. Dr. Reiman has authored or co-authored 4 textbooks, has published over 100 peer reviewed manuscripts and lectures internationally on orthopedic and sports rehabilitation, including return to activity and sport determination.


Adam Payne Goode

Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Goode is an Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. He is a physical therapist by clinical training and epidemiologist by scientific training. His focus is on understanding the etiology of low back pain and other chronic musculoskeletal conditions and improving the delivery of care for patients with acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions.  In his research he has published in the areas of the relationship between individual radiographic features in the lumbar spine and clinical symptoms, biomarkers and peripheral joint osteoarthritis. 

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