How Much Longer Can QB Peyton Manning Play in the NFL After Cervical Spinal Fusion?
The medical community has known for decades that people who participate in certain sports like hockey, gymnastics, golf, and football, even as children or teenagers, suffer from a higher incidence of debilitating degenerative spine conditions, and therefore, often eventually undergo back surgery and fusion to treat chronic back and/or neck pain. Even so, a lot has been made lately about New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski needing yet another back surgery, and rightfully so. He’s one of the top pass catchers in the NFL and quarterback Tom Brady’s most reliable target in the Red Zone. Gronk, as he’s affectionately known to New England fans, will face yet another arduous recuperation as he tries to get his career back on track.
All this talk about Gronk made us wonder – what’s going on with quarterback Peyton Manning? After all, this future Hall of Famer missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing upper back surgery, then stunned the football world by having what amounted to his second-best season as a professional in 2012 with his new team, the Denver Broncos. At age 37, it’s amazing he’s still playing at such a high level. In fact, after undergoing back surgery three times – including cervical fusion once – it’s amazing he’s still playing at all.
Yet, after a successful physical in March vested his five-year, $96-million contract through 2014. The Broncos also reworked the contract to add an insurance policy to cover Manning’s guaranteed salary of $20 million if the quarterback hurts his neck and can’t play in 2013. He is signed through 2016, at which point he will be 40 years old.
Manning provides an extreme example of how someone with a debilitating cervical herniated disc can regain full functionality after surgery. Last season, he guided the Broncos to a 13-3 record. His 4,659 yards and 37 touchdown passes both were the second-highest single-season totals of his 15-year career. He also threw his fewest interceptions (11 in 16 games) in seven years.
Manning’s story also gives Gronkowski and other professional athletes hope that spine problems do not signal an automatic end to the productive years of an NFL career. For that matter, amateur athletes who undergo back surgery like fusion might find the same sort of solace, with the added bonus of never having to experience what it’s like to get sacked by a 310-pound defensive end running right at you at 20 mph with cruel intentions.