Sports and exercise are part of an active and healthy lifestyle. However, participation in these activities means running the risk of incurring a possible injury. The areas of the spine—particularly the lower back—are among the most vulnerable, regardless of the level of sports or exercise participation. In fact, the lower back or neck are sites of up to 20 percent of sports injuries. These injuries can be acute, such as those typically occurring in football; or chronic, meaning those caused by overuse from constant repetitive motion done over time.
The neck (cervical spine) is often involved in contact sports injuries such as football and wrestling. A common such injury is a stinger, also called a burner or nerve pinch injury. Well-known in football, it involves the nerves in the area of the neck and shoulder and occurs in two ways: head impact resulting in compression of the spinal cord in the area of the neck; or, the nerves in the area are over-stretched by a forced sideways movement of the head.
The upper back (thoracic spine) includes the upper and middle back area at the level of the rib cage. Injuries to the thoracic spine are less common as it is a supported area and comparatively immobile. Examples of injuries, when they do occur, are rib fractures as well as muscle strains, which are the result of sports that involve torso rotation such as swimming, golf or tennis.
The lower back (lumbar spine) is a common site of sports injuries. Sports that entail repetitive impact such as running, as well as loading from weight lifting and those activities with twisting motions, such as golf, cause significant strain on the lower back. Consequently, most lower back injuries impact the muscles, ligaments, discs and joints.
However, several more serious conditions can also be present and are common causes of sports-related back pain. These include spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. These conditions are prevalent in athletes who participate in gymnastics, volleyball, diving, dancing and cheerleading, and who routinely do twisting and movements that involve hyperextension of the spine.
Depending on the type of injury, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
You should call your doctor if certain symptoms develop. These include:
Spinal injuries can occur in any sports activity, but are most notable in the following:
Statistics below are from the November, 2011 edition of the journal Sports Health
Spinal sports injuries include:
A diagnosis of a spinal sports injury can usually be made by an exam and exploration of symptoms with a doctor. There are also a number of standard tests the doctor can perform to narrow in on the diagnosis. When necessary, or in the case of severe injury, X-rays and other scans are also potentially ordered.
A majority of spinal sports injuries can resolve on their own, particularly with good self-care. However, for severe or prolonged pain or other symptoms such as those listed above, it is recommended to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Some conservative treatment methods include:
For conditions that do not resolve with the use of conservative treatment, or for more serious injury, surgery may be indicated. At University Orthopaedic Associates (UOA) our board certified and fellowship trained expert surgeons perform state-of-the art procedures for neck and back conditions.