Second only to car accidents and just ahead of falls as the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, sports-related injuries can contribute to a number of aches and pains involving the backbone. While the spine and its 33 bones are fairly durable, a hard hit or fall can cause pain that ranges from a minor inconvenience to something that may have you permanently sidelined. Over the years, there are several common myths about sports-related spine injuries that are often accepted as absolute fact. Read on for the truth behind some of these myths.
1. All Sports-Related Injuries Involve the Spinal Cord
Just because a sports injury affects parts of the spine or areas around it doesn’t necessarily mean the spinal cord itself is involved. The human spine is supported by many structures, both directly and indirectly, including joints, discs, muscles, and nerves. The pain you’re experiencing could come from any of these structures and may involve:
- Issues with one more of the vertebrae
- Overuse or overextension of back-supporting muscles (flexors, obliques/rotators, abdominals) or other soft tissues
- Spasms from muscle tightness or strain
- Damage to spinal discs
- Compression of nerve roots (“pinched nerve”)
2. Equipment Always Provides Protection from Injuries
Simply wearing padding, helmets, and other sports equipment doesn’t mean you can take a direct hit from a 300-pound linebacker or dive into home plate free of injury. Any equipment you use should fit properly. You also need to make an effort to keep muscles that support your spine strong between games with regular exercise. It’s just as important to use correct techniques when playing to minimize direct impacts.
3. There’s No Way to Protect the Spine While Playing Sports
The spine, especially the lower back and neck, may be readily exposed and seemingly susceptible to many injuries. Even so, this doesn’t mean nothing can be done to protect your spine while playing sports. In addition to paying attention to form and technique while in the game, you can protect your spine by using proper lifting form when working out and by continuing your exercise efforts during the off-season to keep your spine-supporting muscles strong. You can further protect your spine by:
- Taking time to stretch before games, including practice games
- Staying hydrated as you play to keep nutrients flowing to your spine
- Being mindful of your posture both on and off the field
- Getting 7 to 8 hours of regular sleep to allow tissues in and around your spine to naturally heal
Avoid the temptation to play through the pain. Addressing a possible spine-related injury sooner rather than later can prevent damage from becoming worse as inflammation increases or nerves become irritated. You should also watch out for pain that develops a day or two after an injury occurs. Home remedies such as taking a few days to rest and applying some form of heat or cold to the affected area may provide relief. If this isn’t the case or if your pain is sharp, severe, and becoming increasingly worse, you may want to consider seeing a Santa Monica spine surgeon.
At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we offer a variety of treatments for alleviating sports-related spine injuries, including minimally invasive options like decompression surgery. Santa Monica residents can call 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.