Health Matters

How Serious is Back Pain in Younger Athletes?

By November 13, 2020 No Comments

Lower back pain (the lumbar region of the spine) occurs in 10-15% of young athletes. It can occur either from trauma, common in contact sports like football and rugby, or repetitive motions, as with figure skating, dance, and gymnastics.

In fact, some 27% of college football players have suffered from it or will at some point, due to a fall or too much force placed on the back. Half of artistic gymnasts, who emphasize contortions, leaps, and dance, have lower back pain. And so do 86% of rhythmic gymnasts, who perform on a floor with objects (hoops, ribbons, ropes, etc.) and are judged more on strength, precision, and technique. All of these make athletes prone to both sudden injury or overuse: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445254/.

The risk is especially high during periods of rapid growth, when muscles and ligaments may not keep pace with bones, resulting in imbalances. The longer the training or events go on, the more likely it is that the back will be overstressed.

The most common back injury for young athletes is a stress fracture, but it can be misdiagnosed as simply muscle strain (which is more likely in adults). These can’t always be seen on regular x-rays right away, even after pain starts, and might take as much as a month to show up.

At AVORS Medical Group we have the specialists who can do a thorough examination and avoid delaying of the proper treatment. We may order a bone scan (requiring a tiny dose of radioactive material intravenously) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which uses radio waves to create clear images of bones and soft tissues.

If we determine the trauma did result in a stress fracture, it will require 2-3 months of rest to let the bones heal. It is frustrating for the athlete to use crutches initially or wear a boot or brace, but putting further stress on the back too soon could result in further injury. Once in a while, surgery is necessary.

The second most common source of lower back pain in young athletes is muscle strain, which can be treated initially with ice, heat and anti-inflammatory drugs for a brief time. Then a physical therapist will guide the patient through muscle strengthening exercises and stretches. Instructions for a set of exercises to relieve lower back pain in general (experienced by 80% of all people at some point) are posted on our website.

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