Some professions come with a much higher risk of physical injury and often, the wear and tear endured by top athletes is centered around the spine. It’s not surprising then that many pros with banged-up spines undergo surgery of some sort – especially Micro-discectomy. Here are some of the more high profile pro athletes with herniated discs and various other back related injuries.
Tiger Woods: If we’re going to talk about debilitating back injuries that have sidelined athletes, we might as well start at the top. In March of 2014, Woods underwent a microdiscectomy for a lumbar disc herniation. At the time he was the No. 1 golfer in the world and since the operation, he hasn’t won a major tournament. On September 16, 2015, Woods underwent a second surgery to remove a small disk fragment that was pinching a nerve. From those who have had microdiscectomies, it’s a long road to recovery. He mentioned in an interview with ESPN, that he would be starting his rehab soon, but that it would be a “long and tedious process”.
Peyton Manning: One of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time has had multiple spine surgeries. Starting with a bulge disc operation in his cervical in 2010 and then in 2011, he had single level anterior cervical fusion for a herniated disc. As Peyton explained “The disc herniation is on the front of the nerve, so we go in through the front, take the pressure off the nerve, and then we distract that disc space where it belongs. We also open the tunnel where the nerve runs out and then we keep it in that position with a little bone graft. And you usually put a little plate across that section so people can move their neck right away and get back to doing their normal activities very quickly”. Both operations were a success and Peyton has gone on to record successful seasons with the Denver Broncos. It’s reported that Peyton did 7-9 hours of rehab to get back into form.
Larry Bird: Dr. Alexander Wright once said of Larry Bird “I don’t see how he played with what he had”. The three-time NBA champion had a notorious back problem and often you could see Bird, laying on the sidelines trying to straighten it out. In 1991, Bird was operated on for a ruptured disc at L4/L5 which continued to plague him after the surgery. In March 1993, Bird underwent a 5-hour back fusion operation for the same problem.
Tony Romo: On Dec 27, 2013 the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo had surgery for an L4/L5 disc herniation. Though details of the surgery are murky, we do know that earlier in his career Romo had a cyst removed from his back. In 2014, Romo again injured his spine during a loss to the Washington Redskins where he suffered two fractured transverse process. A broken collarbone sidelined Tony Romo early in the 2015 season and after his brief return he suffered a hairline fracture of the left clavicle.
Andy Murray: After becoming Britain’s first male Wimbledon single tennis champion since 1936, Andy Murray underwent back surgery to repair an L4/L5 disc herniation on September 23, 2013. It’s reported that Murray had a micro-discectomy to reduce the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Jose Canseco: On July 10, 1999, one of baseball’s biggest sluggers underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc. Before the procedure, Canseco was leading the league in home runs. This was Canseco’s second surgery as he previously underwent surgery for a similar injury.
In 1990, at the age of 24 and lauded as the heir apparent to Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux underwent his first back surgery in July, 1990 for a herniated disc. Just three years later, Mario underwent a second surgery on his lower back for a muscle hernia.
The 48 year old football and baseball star underwent back surgery on February 17, 2016 to fix a Sciatic nerve problem. After playing 14 seasons in the NFL Sanders stated that athletes have aches and pains to play through – it comes with the job.
To date, the injury prone tight end for the New England Patriots has had three back surgeries including his most recent to alleviate a herniated disc. Previous to this, the Gronk had a micro lumbar discectomy in June, 2013 returning for the 2013-14 NFL season.
Former captain of the Detroit Red Wings, underwent back surgery in 2014 to remove bone fragment that was pinching a nerve. On September 14th, 2018, Zetterberg retired citing a degenerative disc condition that was preventing him from playing to his potential.
On May 5, 2022, Ben Simmons underwent a successful microdiscectomy to remove a small fragment of a herniated disc to relieve pressure on the spinal column. He will be out several months while he recovers but is expected to make a full recovery. Details here:
Dwight Howard: On April 20,2012 the Orlando Magic basketball star underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy to remove herniated disc material which was pinching a nerve root.. Prior to the surgery, Howard complained of low back pain and weakness in his leg. Though he returned to the NBA during the 2012-13 season, his surgery clearly affected his game as he had his worst season since 2006-7 in defensive rebounding. By 2018, Howard stated he was pain free…read about it here.
Yes, eight-time NBA champion (Bulls (3) / Spurs (2) / Warriors (3), that Steve Kerr, underwent a botched micro-discectomy in July 2015 for herniated discs. The surgeon performing the surgery nicked the Dura which caused a cerebrospinal fluid leak. To fix the problem Kerr had a second surgery in 2016…and yet another one in 2017. Read about it here.
The seven time New York Mets all-star will retire after the 2018 baseball season after a spinal stenosis diagnosis in 2015. and a laminotomy in 2017.
Add Yankees starting pitcher, James Paxton to the list of baseball players who have had a lumbar microdiscectomy. In February of 2020, Paxton had the procedure done and will be out for 4 months. Read the full story here.
Cubs right-hander Alec Mills underwent discectomy surgery on his lower back Wednesday, the team announced this morning. He’d been out since July 3 with a lower back strain and was moved to the 60-day injured list late last month. Full details here:
On September 6, 2022, Boston Red Sox pitcher underwent a successful lumbar back surgery and is expected to make a complete recovery. Houck’s back issues stemmed from an Aug 9th injury where he experienced inflammation and was placed on the 10-day IL. The details of his injury and recovery are here.