Spinal Conditions In Athletes

Spinal conditions in Athletes Back and neck pain are very common within the general population, but athletes are at an even greater risk of developing both acute and long-term spinal problems due to the extra strain that their spine is put through. Non-contact sports such as running, golf and tennis can significant additional stress on the spine, whereas contact sports such as football and rugby are even worse due to the greater risk of injuries as well as ongoing wear and tear.

Occasional or weekend athletes are at risk as they can alternate between periods of a sedentary lifestyle and intense exercise. In contrast, elite athletes may be at risk due to overtraining and from pushing their bodies to the very limit on a regular basis. As such, it is not hard to see why many athletes develop spinal pain. Athletes are typically more determined to push on despite pain than the average person and this can be a double-edged sword. When undergoing rehabilitation it can be good to be able to tolerate a degree of discomfort in order to stretch out stiffened muscles and joints. However, on the other hand, sometimes the body needs to rest and pushing too hard too soon after an injury can prolong the recovery period.

Some of the more common spinal conditions that can occur in athletes include spinal disc herniation, spondylolisthesis, facet joint syndrome and sacroiliitis. These may be managed in a conventional way, but in many cases, more interventional treatment is indicated at the earliest opportunity in order to expedite healing and return to fitness. This could take the form of urgent clinical assessment, MRI scan within 48 hours and minimally invasive X-Ray guided spinal injection therapy within 1-2 weeks. This would be followed by aggressive physical rehabilitation and restorative therapy. The medication also has a role, but it is not always possible for athletes to tolerate some strong painkillers due to minor impacts on coordination and the ability to concentrate, which may impair performance in some cases.

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One of the most common causes of low back pain and spinal pain in athletes tends to be a muscle strain. A violent or jerking motion or an over-extension of the back muscles will usually cause back muscle strains, this causes one or more back muscles, tendons or ligaments to stretch or tear. Most low back pain from sports will result in an injury, this includes muscle sprains or strains due to sudden movements or poor body mechanics while lifting heavy objects.

Lower back pain is common during and following a number of sports including running, walking, lifting, as well as other upright activities that involve the lower spine to overarching. This hyperlordosis isn’t caused by an anatomic problem “condition” it tends to be bad posture, which is easily correctable.

We recommend stretching before any type of exercise is used to be recommended, a number of studies over the years have shown that stretching the muscles before exercise can help to prevent injuries. For every sport, a thorough warm-up should be completed before starting to play, the warm-up will target the muscles used in that sport and also prepare the back from the stresses to come.

When participating in sports, injuries to any part of the spine are possible, this also includes injuries to the soft tissue and fascia that can help comprise the makeup of the body. Up to 20% of all injuries that occur in sports will involve an injury to the lower back.

Lower Back Injuries

The lower back is subject to a great deal of strain in many sports, sports that use repetitive impact include running, a twisting motion in golf, or weight loading at the end of a range-of-motion including weightlifting, these can commonly cause damage to the lower back.

Common Sports-Related Back and Spine Injuries

Sports-related back and spine injuries vary somewhat with the sport that you are participating in but a few of the most common include:

Cervical (neck) injuries. Some injuries tend to occur more often in certain sports, in football, you commonly see ‘stingers’ and this is a type of neck injury. These injuries manifest as transient unilateral numbness or tingling in the shoulder due to a stretching or compressing of the cervical nerve roots. When a player suffers a “stinger” on the field, it should resolve very quickly. If not, the athlete will need immediate medical attention and further evaluation. 

Lumbar lower back sprains and strains, you could get one of these injuries in the gym if you try to lift too much weight or use improper technique when lifting. Acute injuries like lower back sprains and strains tend to resolve on their own and you won’t need to seek further medical assistance. Fractures and other injuries to the spine’s supporting structures, in sports that involve repetitive extension movements, such as volleyball, gymnastics, diving and dancing, spine stress fractures are fairly common.