NFL Players and Spine Injuries
By Michael Gleiber, MD
Last season, there were several NFL players who sustained spinal injuries. With a new football season approaching, let’s review the status of these players to see how they have recovered from these injuries, and who is ready to get back in the game.
Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys – Quarterback)
The injury: Romo suffered from a herniated disc
in the lower back that resulted in a pinched nerve, causing leg pain. Because the herniated disc caused leg pain, it was initially thought that Romo had a hamstring injury. He underwent surgery to correct the problem in December 2013.
The procedure: Romo underwent a microdiscectomy, a minimally invasive procedure during which a small portion of bone and all or part of the herniated disc is removed to relieve pressure on the nerve root.
Current status: So far, Romo’s surgery appears to have been quite successful. He was able to participate in light off-season workouts and has played in preseason games, although he did sit out the first preseason game. It looks as though Romo will start the season without issue.
Arian Foster (Houston Texans – Running Back)
The injury: Like Romo, Foster suffered from a lumbar herniated disc.
The procedure: Foster also underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy in November 2013.
Current status: Foster was cleared to play in March. He has had a history of hamstring problems, which is a concern, but it is possible that his hamstring problems were a result of the herniated disc, as was the case with Romo. In an interview with ESPN
, Foster revealed that he considered leaving football after the injury, but ultimately decided to return. Foster has, however, taken a conservative approach to his recovery, sitting out of several practices, but the team does not appear concerned about his ability to play.
Ahmad Bradshaw (Indianapolis Colts – Running Back)
The injury: Bradshaw suffered from a bulging disc in his neck, forcing him to sit out for the rest of the season in October 2013.
The procedure: Bradshaw underwent a procedure to remove the bulging disc and fuse the two vertebrae together.
Current status: Bradshaw has rejoined practice with the Colts, but has only recently played in a preseason game. Time will tell whether he is ready to begin playing full-time.
Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers – Tight End)
The injury: In October 2013, Finley suffered from a spinal cord contusion after a collision with another player during a game. The injury left him paralyzed for a short time. His spinal cord was compressed due to the injury, and he required surgery to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord.
The procedure: Finley underwent an anterior cervical fusion of the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae to decompress the spinal cord. During the procedure, the intervertebral disc is usually removed, and the two vertebrae are fused together, often using a graft of the athlete’s pelvic bone, to provide extra stability to the spine.
Current status: Finley’s contract with the Packers was up at the end of the season, and he is currently a free agent. He was cleared to play by his doctors in May, but has not been picked up by any team as of yet.
Devonte Holloman (Dallas Cowboys – Linebacker)
The injury: Holloman suffered from a bruised spinal cord during a preseason game. He had also suffered from a spinal contusion in the previous season, missing seven games.
The procedure: Holloman has not undergone surgery at this time, but may need spinal fusion surgery to stabilize the spine.
Current status: Unfortunately, doctors advised Holloman to retire from football to avoid risk of paralysis. The 23-year-old Holloman decided to take doctors’ advice, and has since announced that he will join the South Carolina Gamecocks’ coaching staff as a video assistant.
David Wilson (New York Giants – Running Back)
The injury: Wilson was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, following a neck injury during the Week 5 game last year. He sat out the rest of the season. He returned to training camp this year, but experienced a neck burner early on.
The procedure: Wilson underwent a spinal fusion
in January, but did not require further surgery for the neck burner.
Current status: Following his spinal fusion procedure, Wilson was cleared to play in July. However, following the neck burner, doctors advised Wilson to retire to avoid risk of further injury. Like Holloman, Wilson retired at 23.