Participating in high school sports is a great way for teens to get plenty of exercise to keep their muscles, bones, and joints healthy. But all this movement also places added stress on a spine that’s still in the process of developing. While it’s not possible to prevent every injury that may affect someone actively involved in sports, there are ways high school athletes can protect their spines.
It’s fairly common for high school athletes to have certain seasons when they’re more active in sports than others (e.g., football in the fall and baseball in the spring). If you’re preparing to get ready for your particular sport, avoid overstressing your spine by gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts and practices by:
• Doing training exercises before you get ready for tryouts or a new season
• Gradually building up your speed and endurance during practices
• Setting smaller goals as you work up to your desired level of physical performance
The human spine is supported by an assortment of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These structures can be easily damaged if you go from an inactive to an active state too quickly. Minimize this risk by doing basic stretches that target your spine-supporting muscle groups before you work out, practice, or get in the game.
It’s fine to focus on the personal and academic aspects of your life during the off-season. But this doesn’t mean you should only actively engage your muscles just before it’s time to get back into sports again. One way to sufficiently stimulate your spine-supporting muscle groups even when you’re not active in sports is with cross-training.
Cross-training is an approach to off-season exercise that targets different muscle groups than the ones you normally focus on during your sport’s regular season, and it allows your muscles to develop evenly so you won’t overstress certain parts of your spine.
Even if you’re a linebacker on your high school football team, don’t overdo it and try to add bulk by overindulging in unhealthy foods. Too much weight can put added stress on your spine and increase your risk of being injured as you run, tackle, swing, kick, or block.
Sugary snacks and high-fat foods can also contribute to increased inflammation around the tissues that take some of the burden off the spine. Occasional treats are fine, but aim for a balanced diet that includes:
• Fruits and veggies
• Lean proteins
• Low-fat dairy products
• Healthy snacks, such as celery and carrot sticks with a light dip, crackers and hummus, apple slices, yogurt, or trail mix with dried fruit or nuts
It’s perfectly normal to experience some degree of soreness after an intense practice session or a grueling match, competition, or game. However, any spine-related pain that sticks around or gets worse should be reason enough to take a time-out and see what your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon has to say.
If you’re having spine pain, whether it’s from playing sports or not, don’t try to simply push through it. Get in touch with the spinal health specialists at The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of pioneering surgeons specialize in procedures such as spinal fusion, minimally invasive surgeries, and artificial disc replacement with the Mobi-C cervical disc. Santa Monica patients can rely on our expert physicians 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.