When participating in sports, injuries to the spine are more common than one may think. According to spine-health.com, up to 20% of sports injuries involve an injury to the lower back or neck. Of those injuries, the most common include:
- Hyperflexion and hyperextension injuries
- Muscle strains
- Ligament sprains
Hyperextension and Hyperflexion
Hyperextension is the over-arching or twisting of the back in a backwards motion. On the other hand, hyperflexion occurs when the spine is twisted forward too far. Hyperextension and hyperflexion of the back are a common injury seen in athletes who participate in gymnastics, diving, football, and volleyball. They are categorized by persistent lower back pain. Initial treatment consists of rest, such as sitting out from sports and other activities that may aggravate your back. Your doctor may also recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Advil. Ice can also be used to relieve pain.
If hyperextension or hyperflexion of the back continues even after rest, you could have a stress fracture in your vertebrae. This condition is referred to as spondylolysis. In some incidences, the stress fracture weakens one vertebra so much that it shifts. This is called spondylolisthesis and is much less common.
If one of these two conditions have manifested, and rest has failed to heal the injury, your doctor may assign you to wear a back brace. This prevents hyperextension, allowing the bone to heal back together. Your doctor could also send you to physical therapy 6-12 weeks after your diagnosis, once your bones have had time to heal. Rehabilitation exercises are focused on improving back flexibility and strength.
Athletes are allowed to return to their sport within 3-6 months. Surgery is rarely necessary and only looked into if the patient continues to have persistent pain after 6-12 months of treatment.
Muscle Strains and Ligament Sprains
Muscle strains and ligament sprains are the most common back injuries found in young athletes. They can be caused by athletic overuse, improper body mechanics and technique, lack of proper conditioning, insufficient stretching, or trauma.
A back strain is categorized by injury to a muscle or a tendon, while a back sprain is injury to the ligament. Strains and sprains are both categorized by cramps and spasms, pain that increases when you move, or decreased range of motion. For example, you may have difficulty walking or bending forward.
Mild strains and sprains can be diagnosed after a physical examination from your doctor. A doctor could diagnose you based off of how the injury occurred, your symptoms, and your medical history. In the case of a severe strain or sprain, an X-ray may have to be taken to rule out a more serious injury.
Initial treatment includes a rest period where the athlete sits out from sports participation. Ice and compression can also be used to alleviate pain, along with pain medications like ibuprofen. In addition, other measures to control pain and restore motion are commonly used. If the pain persists after two weeks of treatment, your doctor may prescribe additional treatment.
If you’re an athlete experiencing any pain in your back, Arlington Orthopedic Association can help. We have a team of board-certified physicians who specialize in both sports medicine and the spine. Don’t allow yourself to sit on the sidelines – contact AOA today to get you back in the game as quickly and safely as possible!