The 74-year-old soccer great, Pelé is widely considered the best soccer player of all time. Last month, Pelé underwent nerve root decompression surgery and was released without complications. He will likely require another surgery, however, to fully treat his back condition.
Pelé suffered from pinched nerves near his spine, causing him significant pain. “Pinched nerves” can be extremely painful and even disabling.If the nerve being compressed is the spinal cord, this can cause serious complications, such as moderate to severe pain, tingling, numbness, and decreased mobility of the limbs. This condition can be caused by fractured vertebrae that heal incorrectly, thereby pinching nerves nearby. Herniated discs (commonly, but inaccurately called “slipped discs”) can also be a cause of pinched nerves, where the soft, springy disc that cushions the vertebrae from one another bulges out into another area of the back. Herniated discs are common causes of sciatica, the shooting nerve pain that runs down one or both legs. Spinal cysts or tumors can also press on the nerves.
The Reason for Pelé’s Pinched Nerve is Unclear
Neither Pelé’s representatives nor a spokeswoman at Sao Paolo’s Albert Einstein hospital toldhave commented, or when or why Pelé was admitted. Nevertheless, Pelé’s pinched nerves were likely caused by older age and a lifetime of heavy use. Degenerative spondylolisthesis, where a vertebra slips forward and out of alignment with the other spinal vertebraecan occur with age,waslikely one cause of Pelé’s issues.
Treatment for Pinched Nerves: Nerve Root Decompression Surgery
The treatment for pinched nerves varies depending on the severity of the underlying condition. Non-surgical treatment usually involves bracing and physical therapy. The goal of physical therapy is to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the problem areas of the back to help support and align the spine. These exercises should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional, as they have the potential to make the problems worse if done improperly.
Nerve root decompression surgery, as was performed on Pelé, is a treatment for pinched nerves in the back. Surgical treatment usually involves one of several approaches. A laminectomy will completely remove the lamina, a part of the vertebra that has direct contact with the spinal cord and can be the cause of pinching in some cases. A laminotomy or foraminotomy cuts or shaves off the part of the lamina that is causing compression, giving the nerve a larger opening and relieving the pinching.
A discectomy removes the disc that is causing the compression through herniation or other problems. If enough of the disc is removed, the surgeon will implant a spacer that will act as a cushion between vertebrae in place of the removed disc.
Pelé, whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, spent the weekend after his surgery at the Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil. He was released with a successful outcome, but he will need to have a second surgery to relieve pain in his hip sometime in the future.
He is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Pelé boasts nearly 1,300 goals over the course of his soccer career and holds the record for most World Cups wins at three.