We continue our series on common sport injuries in this edition talking about the back. It’s amazing the number of young athletes that have back pain. However, most only mention it when asked about it. Football, where power and force are placed on the young back while it is in awkward positions, and in gymnastics, where there is excessive stretching and angulation are two of the sports where back pain is frequently found. Other sports such as hockey, cross-country running, wrestling, weight lifting, basketball, diving, and field hockey are other sports where back pain has higher frequency rates.

BACK SPRAIN
This is a stretching and straining that involves the muscles and ligaments in the young athlete’s lower back. Simple back sprains are no different from ankle sprains and will heal just as well if treated properly, but in more complicated cases, specialized care is essential.

What to Look For:
Since young athletes will often say nothing about their back sprains, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, such as:

  • Expression of discomfort while standing/walking
  • Pain when coughing and sneezing
  • Difficulty in bending over to tie shoes
  • Difficulty in getting in and out of a car
  • Difficulty in sitting

Cause:
There are many causes for back pain in sport, in fact 80% of people in general experience some back pain throughout their life.

Prevention:
Trainers and coaches should recognize that their teams are made up of individual bodies of all sizes and shapes. Stretching programs should be geared to the individual athlete, rather than conditioning every athlete at the same force and pace.

Treatment:
Depending on the location and severity of the injury, treatment will vary accordingly. Simply try to avoid increasing the pain and seek medical help as soon as possible.

Return to Competition:
Only medical personnel can make this judgement call.

DISK INJURY
Between the bones in the back are discs with a fibrous outer layer surrounding a jelly-like substance. They have a cushioning effect that acts as a shock absorber as well as permitting back movement. Sports activity can, if injury is severe, damage these discs, causing pressure on the sciatic nerve. This injury is known variously as slipped, herniated, or ruptured discs.

What To Look For:
Severe spasm and pain, along with back stiffness. A pain radiating to the buttocks, hip, thigh, leg, or foot may indicate involvement of the sciatic nerve – a large nerve with branches from the buttocks to the legs. Pain, numbness, or tingling in the leg or foot also might indicate sciatic nerve compression. These are red-flag symptoms that signal a major problem.

Cause:
Too much force placed on the back.

Prevention:
Strengthening, conditioning, controlled stretching, and skill performance.

Treatment:
Should be guided by a medical professional.

Return to Action:
Only upon the approval of a medical professional.

Special thanks to Scott Anderson BSc. P.T., for assisting with this article.