At Prairie Spine & Pain Institute, we can diagnose, treat, and help you manage back pain from any physical activity. In this blog article, we dive into sports injuries, the different kinds of back injuries you can get, and what we can do to get you feeling yourself again. For more information on sports Injuries that may be causing back pain, call us at (309) 691-7774.
Although not common, back and neck injuries can occur in young athletes who participate in sports. Though injuries that cause back pain are not the most common cause of injury in the young athlete, they can cause frustration. Most athletic injuries to the back are sprains of the ligaments or strains of the muscles. However, several more serious conditions can have symptoms similar to a routine sprain or strain. Many injuries occur after repetitive overuse of the structures of the spine. Therefore, proper treatment of a young athlete always includes a good physician evaluation with imaging studies when necessary.
Muscle Strains and Ligament Sprains
Muscle strains and Ligament sprains are the most common injuries that cause back pain in the young athlete. They can be caused by athletic overuse, improper body mechanics and technique, lack of proper conditioning, insufficient stretching, as well as trauma. The athlete will complain of back pain with activity and will feel relief with rest.
Initial treatment may require a period of rest and removing the athlete from sports participation. Treatments may include medication and special exercise. Ice can be used along with pain medications, which should be used sparingly. In addition, other measures to control pain and restore motion are commonly used. Initially, ice and medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can be used. For persistent symptoms, particularly those associated with muscle spasm, heat may also be very helpful.
As pain decreases, the injured athlete should be shown proper exercise to assist recovery. An exercise program can be very beneficial to improve flexibility and strength of the appropriate muscles for athletic performance as well as to help decrease risk for another similar injury. It is also important to maintain aerobic conditioning during treatment for back pain. Aerobic exercise needs to be tailored to the athlete and performed as pain allows. The repetitive overuse of the spine (particularly rotation) should be avoided, at least initially. Before being released to return to play, sport-specific exercises that mimic activities of athletic competition are often included in the exercise program. It is also always important to evaluate and correct poor technique and mechanics that may have predisposed the athlete to the initial injury.
Spondylolysis & Spondylolisthesis
Defects of a vertebra’s pars interarticularis (spondylolysis) and the slippage of one vertebra in relation to another vertebra (spondylolithesis) are common causes of back pain in the young athlete. These injuries are often seen in athletes who participate in sports that require twisting and hyperextension of the spine, such as in gymnastics. The athlete usually complains of pain that worsens when arching the back. The physician must be alert because these injuries often appear to be a sprain or strain. X-ray images are often normal and special imaging studies such as bone scan and CT scan may be required to confirm the diagnosis.
A few special considerations are important in an athlete who has developed a spondylolisthesis. Athletes with 50% or less forward slippage can usually return to all sporting activities after pain resolves and appropriate rehabilitation has been completed. Athletes with 50% or greater forward slippage are encouraged to participate in less aggravating sports. Also, athletes with a spondylolithesis should be monitored every six months for progressive slippage as they go through any adolescent growth spurt.