How long does it take to recover from a herniated disk?

A herniated disk is more serious than you might think. Here’s everything you need to know about the injury.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the latest to fall victim to a herniated disk. Although the experts are saying Gronk can be back on the field as soon as three months after he has surgery for the injury, it’s not quite so simple. It’s one thing to be back on the field, it’s another to truly be back at full strength. So, how long does it really take to recover from a herniated disk?

The best answer, maybe, is: It depends. It takes about three months to make a physical recovery after surgery. But this doesn’t account for the extra tim needed to back in shape mentally.

First of all, what exactly is a “disk”? Basically, disks are your back’s shock absorbers. They are hard on the outside and gel-like on the inside. These disk sit in between each of your 26 vertebrae, and in contact sports they are particularly susceptible to getting ruptured. A rupture occurs when the exterior of the disk breaks open and the gel seeps out. This causes irritation to the surrounding nerves, intense back pain and even numbness in the leg. This is what is known as a herniated disk. As you might imagine, surgically repairing it is a bit of a process, and it can change an athlete.

Take Ross Tucker, for example. In 2005, he had surgery for a herniated disk, and after 12 weeks was ready to go for training camp. But although he was medically healthy and cleared to play, his game was never the same. The Bills ended up cutting him from the team at the end of camp.

Of course, there are plenty of football players who have made a full recovery from a herniated disk, so let’s not be too quick to decide that Gronkowski’s best years are now behind him. But it’s something to keep in mind for when he does return to the field. The three month timetable we all read about doesn’t take into account the time it will take to regain the confidence needed to play at a high level again.

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