Tips for preventing lower back pain in athletes
One of the most common injuries athletes face is low back pain, especially those in sports like tennis, lacrosse, hockey and golf. Kevin Huff, PT, explained what causes these injuries and how to prevent them.
What typically causes low back pain in athletes?
Sports like tennis and golf require repetitive or forceful bending and that involves a combination of lumbar flexion, side bending and rotation. This combination of lumbar movement can happen during a serve in tennis, a swing of a driver or iron in golf and forceful passes or shots on goal in lacrosse and hockey. When an athlete repetitively or forcefully subjects their lumbar spine to these forces, injuries can occur to soft tissue structures of the spine, including muscles, tendons, ligaments and lumbar discs, as well as the bones of the lumbar spine.
What are the types of low back pain injuries?
The most common and easily managed lower back injury is a strained muscle. This injury can usually be managed by your doctor and physical therapist. You may be prescribed an anti-inflammatory and/or muscle relaxer and told to take it easy while your muscles recover.
Other common injuries athletes face are disc herniations and a spondylolisthesis of the lumbar vertebrae. Both injuries can cause significant discomfort and limit the athlete’s mobility.
- A herniated disc occurs when the disc material positioned between the levels of the spine bulges out of its original positioning. This can result in the disc pressing on a nerve or other structure.
- A spondylolisthesis is a fracture of a portion of the lumbar vertebra, and it results in making that segment of the spine unstable.
How is lower back pain in athletes treated?
Once the athlete has been evaluated to determine the impairments in motion and strength, the doctor will explain what treatments can help to decrease pain, improve mobility and return the athletes to their respective sport. Suggested treatments include ice to the strained muscles and soft pressure to relax muscle tension and move fluids in the tissues (this is called soft tissue mobilization), and stretching and strengthening exercises specific to which type of sport caused the injury.
How can athletes prevent injuries that cause low back pain?
Here are three things athletes can do to decrease their risk of injury:
- Core strengthening. One of the most effective strategies is to focus on core strengthening as part of the athlete’s training. The “core” is a group of muscles that provide the low back strength and stability, including abdominal, hip and back muscles.
- Stretching. Appropriate stretching is a great way to decrease the risk of injury. It’s important to do warm-up exercises prior to training or playing your sport. Not only is it possible to suffer an injury while playing, but it’s also common for players to become injured during practice and training, too.
- Form. Athletes should be instructed in proper form and then monitored by their coach, athletic trainer and physical therapist to decrease the risk of injury.
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