Low back pain is a common problem for the general population and unfortunately it can be troublesome for the athlete as well. It is estimated that up to 20% of sports injuries involve the spine, and injuries can be seen in all sports. Whether you are a competitive athlete or just a weekend warrior, everyone is susceptible. But certain sports pose a higher risk than others. This article will outline some of the most common conditions and give some tips on how to prevent back injuries.
By far the most common injuries to the back are sprains/strains. These injuries involve the soft tissues of the back in particular the muscles and ligaments. These are self –limited injuries that usually heal with time. Rest along with ice, heat, and stretching will reduce symptoms. Returning to your sport gradually is important.
Another injury or condition involving the lower back in athletes is Spondylolysis. This condition is a defect in the lumbar vertebral bones which is due to congenital failure to form or a stress fractured. It is most commonly seen in sports requiring excessive hyperextension of the lower back with high forces such as gymnastics, football, and weightlifting. Usually, it only causes pain that will respond to rest, anti-inflammatory medication and therapeutic exercise. However on rare occasions it can lead to Spondyloslisthesis which is a condition where one vertebral bone will shift or “slip “in relation to the adjacent vertebral bone. Depending on the severity and whether or not there is involvement of the nearby nerve structures, this can sometimes require surgery.
A Herniated Nucleus Pulposus or “ruptured disc” is another common injury. Excessive stress or injury to the discs between the vertebral bones can lead them to tear and allow the center of the disc to protrude out into the spinal canal and press on the spinal cord or nearby nerve root causing not only back pain but radiating leg pain. This can also cause weakness of the limbs, numbness or tingling. In most cases this can be treated without surgery, but it may take time and surgery may be necessary in the end.
Some conditions such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine) can predispose an athlete for injury, and obviously anyone with a previous history of back surgery may be at increased risk. However, there are some things athletes can do to prevent a back problem.
- Strengthen your core
- Warm –up and stretch properly
- Wear the correct protective equipment for your sport/position
- Be aware of your posture
- Choose sports according to your conditioning level and overall health
If a severe injury occurs or if pain persists, definitely consult a physician prior to resuming your sport. Whatever your sport, using proper technique and equipment can help in preventing injuries. So play smart and be careful out there!