What Athletes Should Know About Low Back Pain

Most athletes will experience some form of pain during their sports career. When exerting muscles in a fast and/or long pace, low back pain is one of the most common side effects. According to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), athletes are at greater risk of sustaining a lower back injury due to the additional physical activity. [1] The more demanding the sport and the more stress put on the body, the more likely one will suffer from low back pain.

Sports involving repetitive hyperextension, jumping, twisting, or direct contact, carry higher risks of low-back injuries. Among the higher rates are seen in football players, gymnasts, wrestlers, and rowers.

Competitive athletes have the drive to put themselves to their physical and mental limits. However, when pushing to the limit there can be a fine line between safe training and pain. Interestingly, 80% of low-back injuries occurred during practice, 14% during preseason conditioning and 6% during actual competition. [3]

Some common causes of low back pain in athletes include:

  • Muscular Strains and Ligament Sprains
  • Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
  • Herniated Nucleus Pulposus (HNP)
  • Schueuermanns Kyphosis
  • Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

Ignoring the pain and not seeking medical attention can lead to permanent damage to the structure of the spine. Sadly, spine injuries and stresses rarely recover on their own.

Luckily, there are therapies for lower back pain. Some include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication (i.e. ibuprofen) and muscle relaxants which aid to control the initial low back pain. Always seek the professional direction of your attending physician before taking any medication or medical advice.
  • Treatment from healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, athletic therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists are effective in decreasing low back pain, especially in the first few months the pain was sustained.
  • Acupuncture is a great way to treat stubborn muscle tension.
  • Spinal Injections are another therapy in decreasing inflammation and pain in the lower back. The type of injection that would most benefit you would be advised by your attending physician.
  • Surgery, ideally, would be the last resort. This is the most invasive therapy with the longest recovery time. However, some individuals are excellent candidates and sustain significant benefit.

Criteria that should be met prior to returning to any athletic competition:

  1. Completely free of pain and weakness. Must regain full range of motion of the neck and back.
  2. Diagnostic tests such as the EMG and/or MRI should not reveal any active nerve damage or severe nerve compression.
  3. The athlete must be reconditioned for the sport especially if he or she has not competed for a significant period of time.
  4. Must be improvement in the athlete’s playing technique. Equipment modifications should be made to protect the athlete from further injury.

Pain Should Never Be Ignored

Pain is a sign from your body there is something off balance. If any of the above criteria or symptoms ring true to you, please call Pain and Spine Specialists in Maryland at 301.703.8767, or 724-603-3560 in Pennsylvania to schedule a consultation. We can review not only your pain symptoms but your treatment plan to get you where you want to be and enhance your quality of living of decreased pain.

References:

  1. Maryland Spine Center – Low Back Pain in Athletes. http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/low_back_pain_in_athletes.htm. Accessed 6/19/2008, 2008.
  2. Jackson DW: Low back pain in young athletes: evaluation of stress reaction and discogenic problems. Am J Sports Med 7: 364–366, 1979
  3. Keene JS, Albert MJ, Springer SL, Drummond DS, Clancy WG Jr: Back injuries in college athletes. J Spinal Disord 2:190–195, 1989

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