Most athletes are used to “pushing through the pain” with the minor aches and pains sometimes associated with injuries like stress fractures. While most people associate these tiny bone breaks with feet, ankles, and legs, they can also develop within the bones of the spine. Usually caused by repetitive stress or overuse, spinal stress fractures normally form on the outer part of a vertebra. In some instances, the tiny joints of the spine (facet joints) can also develop stress fractures (spondylolysis). If you’re an athlete, read on for some tips on how to reduce your risk of developing spine-related stress fractures.
1. Exercise During the Off Season
take a long break from your normal workout and conditioning routine between seasons. However, doing so could weaken the muscles that support your spine enough to increase your odds of developing stress fractures when you get back in the game. However, you don’t need to stick to an intense exercise routine. Other forms of exercise, such as elliptical machine use, casual or brisk walking, biking, and water-based exercises, can effectively target key spine-supporting muscle groups in a way that’s less demanding.
2. Slowly Get Back into the Swing of Things
As you prepare to get back to your preferred sport, give your soft tissues and spinal bones time to adjust to a return to increased intensity and motion, which means getting started with training and conditioning efforts a few months before tryouts, practice, or regular season events, games, or competitions.
3. Gradually Ease into High-Impact Activities
If your preferred sports-related activities involve jumping, running, biking, or swimming for speed and endurance or contact sports where you’ll be spiking, tackling, or blocking, gradually get back to such activities to reduce your risk of being sidelined by spinal stress fractures. One way to ease into these activities or actions is by doing them in a controlled way. For instance, you might have practice runs where you progressively increase your speed and duration and add challenges like steeper hills. With contact sports, you might work on your blocking and tackling skills and mix in some low-impact warm-ups or exercises.
4. Give Yourself Some Time Off
It only stands to reason that constant stress on the same muscle groups or areas of the spine will increase the risk of stress fractures. Allow your spine and it’s supporting soft tissues some time to recover by taking a few days off during the regular season. If your preferred activity is especially demanding, give yourself a few weeks of rest when the off season starts before you get back to a normal exercise routine.
5. Mix Up Your Sports/Activities
If you’re one of those athletes who prefer to stay active year-round, mix things up with your sports and activities so you won’t be constantly stressing the same areas. For example, you might play football in the fall, run competitively in the spring, and swim in the summer.
6. Add Some Cross-Training into Your Routine
If you’re dedicated to one sport year-round, incorporate some cross-training into your routine between games. Your approach to cross-training will depend on the sport you prefer to participate in year-round. If you’re a competitive runner, your cross-training might include:
• Casual or brisk walking
• Yoga, Pilates, and other controlled-discipline activities
7. Focus on Core Strength
Your routines during regular and off seasons should include exercises that increase and maintain flexibility and core strength and target the following muscles that directly or indirectly support your spine:
• Hamstrings and hip flexors
• Abdominal muscles
• Obliques or rotators (side muscles)
• Extensors (back and gluteal muscles
If you suspect you have a stress fracture, see your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon to get a positive diagnosis. If left untreated, stress fractures could progress through the bone and become a full bone break or create enough instability to dislocate spinal discs, which can lead to nerve irritation and other sources of discomfort. Most spinal stress fractures respond well to medication and efforts to reduce or modify activities to allow the affected vertebrae or joints to heal.
Whether you have a spinal stress fracture or are living with chronic pain in your lower back, get in touch with The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of surgeons specialize in procedures such as spinal fusion, minimally invasive surgeries, and Mobi-C cervical disc. Santa Monica patients can rely on Dr. Bae to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives.