(HealthDay News) – Professional athletes may return to full contact sports following a single-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), according to research published in the July issue of Neurosurgery.

Joseph C. Maroon, MD, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and colleagues retrospectively reviewed medical and radiographic data from 15 professional athletes who had undergone a one-level ACDF by a single neurosurgeon from 2003–2012 to examine the return-to-play (RTP) decisions and outcomes.

The researchers found that the athletes presented with neurapraxia, cervical radiculopathy, and hyperintensity of the spinal cord (seven, eight, and two patients, respectively). Fourteen patients had cervical stenosis with effacement of the cerebrospinal fluid signal. Patients’ operative levels were: C3-4, C4-5, C5-6, and C6-7 for four, one, eight, and two patients, respectively. After a neurological examination with normal findings and confirmation of radiographic criteria for early fusion, all athletes were cleared for RTP. Thirteen players returned to their sport at a mean of six months postoperatively (range, 2–12 months). Of the five players who had subsequently retired, the RTP duration ranged from one to three years of full participation. All athletes remained asymptomatic for radicular or myelopathic signs and symptoms.

“After a single-level ACDF, an athlete may return to contact sports if there are normal findings on a neurological examination, full range of neck movement, and solid arthrodesis,” the authors write. “Cord hyperintensity may not necessarily preclude RTP.”

Two authors are ringside physicians for World Wrestling Entertainment.

Full Text