If you’ve ever been out on the sporting field – or even just out throwing a ball for the dog – and felt a pain in your lower back, you’re far from alone. Lower back pain in athletes (amateur or elite) is one of the most common pains experienced. It can come and go quickly, or linger for weeks.
Muscle strains and ligament sprains are the most common injuries that cause back pain, particularly in younger athletes.
Sprains and strains can be caused by performing the same movements too many times, poor technique, lack of conditioning, poor stretching or trauma (for example, being tackled by another player).
It’s not just the physically active who experience back pain.
Estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate about 4.0 million Australians (16 percent of the population) have back problems. It’s estimated that 70–90 percent of people will suffer from lower back pain in some form, at some point in their lives.
These statistics are even higher among the very physically active, depending on their preferred sport. Some of the worst sports for back injuries include football, rugby, horse riding, snowboarding, cheerleading and skiing.
Though the entire spine is used when playing sports, it is estimated that 5-10 percent of all athletic injuries are related to the lumbar (lower) spine.
Sports people can be more tempted to push through the pain, to keep from stopping the game. Unfortunately, this puts their bodies at risk of developing chronic pain. Retired professional athletes, tend to carry the legacy of injury with chronic pain for the rest of their lives.
Recommended treatments for back pain
If you’re an athlete or just physically active and are experiencing back pain, there’s a few treatments you can consider to improve your conditions.
Hot or cold therapy is often used to help relieve back pain, particularly if that pain comes from sprains or strains.
Hot (or heat) therapy generally involves applying a warm pad to the affected area. Heat therapy is proven to promote blood flow and help muscles relax and is particularly useful for chronic pain. You could try heat therapy at home by applying a hot water bottle to the area of your pain.
Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, involves applying a cool pad to the affected area. It can help reduce swelling by limiting blood flow. You can try cold therapy at home by applying an ice pack to your back pain.
Alternating hot and cold pads helps increase blood flow to an injury. Hot/cold therapy is a specialised treatment our physiotherapists provide at The Brisbane Spine Clinic.
Massage can be helpful for relieving the symptoms of lower back pain in athletes. Gently working affected muscles can help loosen them and provide relief from tension. If your pain is severe or chronic, we strongly recommend contacting a spinal specialist to make sure you’re treating the area appropriately. Some of the types of massage available are:
- Therapeutic massage: This involves specifically targeting an area of pain or discomfort during the massage.
- Deep tissue massage: This is best left to the professionals as it involves reaching muscles and their connective tissue on a deeper level.
- Swedish: Gentler than deep tissue massage, Swedish massage uses long, circular movements and kneading as well as tapping and vibration.
- Sports massage: A sports massage is specifically designed to help athletes recover from injury. Again, it’s one best left to professional physiotherapists.
Regularly performing stretches can help you treat back pain and can be useful in keeping it from coming back. There is a range of stretches available and the best ones for you will depend on the area and cause of your back pain. It’s worth consulting with a physiotherapist to get advice on a specialised exercise plan.
Low intensity exercise:
Continuing to exercise is one of the most effective ways to treat an injured back – provided you choose your exercise wisely. If you’ve sprained a muscle in your lower back doing back flips, you may be looking at a period of time off the gymnastics floor. But, continuing to move is one of the best ways to relieve back pain. Walking and swimming are examples of good, low-intensity exercise you can do to keep your muscles moving while you work to get back to your normal sporting activities.
When should you see a physiotherapist?
It’s advisable to see a physiotherapist or spinal specialist to work out a treatment plan for back pain. A physiotherapist can work with you to develop stretches and exercises to relieve pain. They can also help you correct any flawed movement or technique to keep it from returning.
If you’re looking for a physiotherapist, The Brisbane Spine Clinic’s expert team may be able to help you. We have physiotherapists and spinal specialists at both our Eight Mile Plains and North Lakes clinics.
If you are an athlete who is currently experiencing back pain, please contact the team at The Brisbane Spine Clinic to book an appointment.