Back Surgery Options for Athletes

Many athletes struggle with back pain that results from injury or from excessive strain to their spine and muscles. Many individuals are able to find relief from conservative methods, but sometimes, spinal surgery is necessary.


A common injury that is found in athletes is bulging or ruptured discs. The spinal discs each contain a spongy center that is designed to provide cushioning along the spinal column. If the center is disrupted by strain or injury, the contents will bulge out of their natural line and may cause pain due to nerve compression. Often, a spinal surgeon will perform a discectomy and remove the offending bulge.


Some athletes experience nerve pain when the outlets along the spinal column (that allow passage for the spinal nerves) also known as foramen, become disrupted and cause nerve compression. During foraminotomy spine surgery, the physician widens the foramen in order to allow more room for the nerves to travel out of the spinal column without being pinched.


If the rear portion, or lamina, of the spine has been disrupted or injured in an athlete and is causing nerve compression, a laminectomy may be performed. Laminectomies involve the removal of the lamina in order to release the pinched nerve. The surgery may be followed by a spinal fusion in order to provide stability to the spinal column.

Spinal Fusion

If an athlete has suffered a severe injury to the spine, such as a fracture, or has undergone another surgery that may cause spinal instability, he or she may need a spinal fusion. During spinal fusion surgery, the spinal column is stabilized by using a bone graft from another part of the body or synthetic bone, so that the vertebrae can be fused together. The grafts are held in place by the insertion of screws or plates. Sometimes, rods or cages are used in order to provide better support.

While the above are common surgeries for athletes, advanced clinical trials and enhanced technology has given way to a new type of motion-preserving surgery which includes procedures such as artificial disc replacement, interlaminar stabilization and many more. For more information about these procedures and how they help athletes get back to the sports they love, call 310-828-7757 and schedule an in-person consultation with Dr. Hyun Bae, a doctor that specializes in minimally invasive spinal fusion alternatives.