Athletes are obviously one of the groups that carry a higher risk of lower lumbar injury. Whether the sport is skiing, golf, gymnastics, football, or tennis, stress level to the spine is quite high, as there is lot of twisting, turning, and even stress to the whole body.

This strenuous activity puts a lot of strain to the spine resulting in injury to even the fittest athletes.

Although most types of back pain are treatable without any disruption to a person’s life, there is reluctance in seeking help in case of athletes due to various reasons. It should be noted that a majority of back pain can be treated conservatively but one should address the issue immediately rather than prolonging.

Causes For Low Back Pain In Athletes

  • Strain to the muscles or ligaments

This is the most common sports injury where the soft tissues of the lumbar spine are injured.

  • Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolysis is found in athletes who do lumbar hyperextensions frequently, such as gymnasts or footballers. Spondylolysis can also lead to spondylolisthesis in which case one vertebra slips forward over the one below it due to weakness caused by spondylolysis.

  • Herniated disc

Athletes sometimes damage an intervertebral disc due to excessive weight bearing and stress.

Symptoms Of Low Back Pain

  • Tenderness to palpation in the lower back, loss of normal lumbar lordosis, and spasm of the muscles near the spine.
  • Sciatica (radiating pain from the back to the buttock, leg, and foot).
  • Leg pain that occurs primarily when walking or standing.
  • Numbness, change in reflexes, and tingling in the extremities.

Diagnosis Of The Cause In Athletes

Diagnosis of the cause of pain is made based on information gathered by the physician about the current problem and past history of additional medical problems. The physician will then examine the spine completely. This will enable the physician to look for reflexes, sensation, and perform certain movements. The physician may then order for x-ray, CT, or MRI based on his findings if required.

Treatment Of Low Back Pain In Athletes

Treatment of low back pain in athletes is generally conservative. Only in rare cases, invasive procedures are recommended. Given below are some of the conservative measures that have provided effective treatment in lower back pain in athletes.

  • Ice and heat packs

Ice for the first couple of days blocks the pain signals and reduces the blood flow to the affected area. The ice pack needs to be applied several times a day for not more than 20 minutes. After that, heat pack may be applied to restore blood flow to the affected area

  • Medications

Many over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to reduce low back pain.

  • Epidural steroid injections

In case the medications are ineffective in treating the lower back pain, epidural steroid injections may be recommended for the pain.

  • Alternative and Complementary therapies

Acupuncture, chiropractic care, a good massage, yoga, and Pilates are some of the alternative treatments that are popular and believed to aid pain relief effectively.

  • Ayurveda

Ayurvedic massages and Therapies like Podikkizhi (Herbal powder massage), Ilakkaizhi (Herbal leaves massage), kativasthi (Pooling medicated oil in the back), Pizhichil (Pouring medicated oils as a stream), Nhavarakkizhi (Massage with rice boiled in medicated milk) and most importantly Panchakarma therapies involving medicated enemas like Kashaya Vasthi (enema with medicated decoctions) and Ksheeravasthi (Enema with medicated milk) are found to be extremely effective in relieving symptoms of lower back ailments. They also help strengthen the core muscles in the back thereby providing a holistic healing experience.

  • Surgery

Though generally, surgery is considered the last resort in normal cases, it is considered more frequently in the case of athletes as they are likely to put the structures to severe stress repeatedly. It is advised if the physician suspects any underlying damage to the nervous system or complete or a significant rupture of a ligament and in case of persistent pain, not responding to any of the above methods.

Prevention Of Back Pain In Athletes

  • Preventive care for the lower back pain is very important for an athlete as it is vital for them to continue to remain fit all the time.
  • It is very important to perform stretching exercises regularly before pursuing any sports activity.
  • It is also a very good idea to apply warm medicated oil on the body every day before having a bath. It greatly improves flexibility, relaxes the muscles and the nerves and strengthens the body by improving blood supply.
  • It is also very important to attend to minor injuries immediately as failure to do so can bring in more complications which may then be irreparable.

Lower back pain can be annoying, but it can be healed. Proper therapy, taking adequate time to get back into fitness, and preventative measures will surely help athletes have a healthy lower back.


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