From increasing socialization skills to being a regular source of exercise and stress relief, there are many benefits associated with the sports teens and young adults often play. However, any activities that involve spinal movements can be a potential source of injuries. In fact, lower back problems are among the most common injuries likely to affect young athletes. If you’re an active teen or the parent of one, here’s what you need to know about four common back issues that can affect young athletes.
Any sport that involves the same movements can irritate muscles, tendons, or ligaments around the spine or place added stress on various vertebrae, discs, or spinal joints. While it isn’t possible to completely avoid the movements necessary to kick, jump, run, tackle, swing, or hit, young athletes can:
• Work core muscles with other forms of exercise when not playing sports
• Give sore spine-supporting muscles time to heal
• Pay attention to form and technique when playing
Most instances of back pain are related to strained muscles or tendons or sprained ligaments that normally absorb some of the stress placed on the spine. Irritated muscles, tendons, and ligaments can also become inflamed enough to affect nearby nerves. Fortunately, most back issues of this nature respond well to rest for a day or two and the application of ice to ease swelling and heat to increase circulation.
Referred to as hyperextension, excessive lower back arching is often the result of poor technique or bad habits that were never corrected. To avoid lower back pain from excessive arching, young athletes need to keep the muscles that support the spine as strong as possible. Maintaining a strong core can also retain the spine’s natural alignment and minimize instances of hyperextension.
Football, soccer, and other high-impact sports can result in forceful hits, collisions, and hard falls. Not surprisingly, this type of abrupt pressure on the back can cause tiny breaks in the bones of the spine (spinal stress fractures). Even with younger spines that are generally more resilient, stress fractures can take time to properly heal. It’s not entirely possible to avoid this type of injury when playing certain sports. However, young athletes may be able to reduce their risk of sustaining stress fractures by:
• Switching to a less physically demanding sport (or alternating between contact sports and other types of sports from one season to the next)
• Eating nutrient-rich foods to keep bones of the spine strong and healthy
• Continuing to get regular exercise even during the off-season or between games
The first thing to remember about any type of spine-related pain that becomes noticeable during or after athletic activity is to take it seriously, which means knowing when to take a timeout and let back-supporting soft tissues heal. It’s just as important for young athletes to wear properly fitting equipment and stretch before playing, training, or practicing. Finally, any back issues that are sticking around for more than a few weeks should be checked out by a Los Angeles spine surgeon.
If you think you might need surgery to alleviate your chronic back pain, get in touch with The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae specializes in procedures such as transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion and ACDF surgery. Los Angeles athletes who want relief can call 310-828-7757 today to talk to one of our friendly representatives and schedule an in-person evaluation.