Repetitive Sports’ Long-Term Effects On The Spine

Although you might think of sports injuries as acute traumas that require immediate treatment, many are caused by repetitive motions. Over time, the structure of the spine is compromised. This can happen at any age and depends on the frequency and type of movements that are performed. 

Because the back supports much of your body’s weight, it’s especially susceptible to injury. Your spine accommodates just about every position that you get into, and you might feel the distress no matter what you’re doing. That’s why backaches are the second most common reason that people go to the doctor. 

Difference Between Acute And Repetitive Use Injuries

Most of the time, soft tissue strains and sprains contribute to back pain. Strains and sprains usually come on quickly and get worse with activity. It only takes one instance of twisting improperly or undergoing an impact to hurt your back.

Medline Plus explains that acute back pain is usually caused by a sudden injury. It can be caused by muscle spasms, strains or tears in the soft tissue. This type of pain can last for up to a few weeks. It may resolve itself in a few days.

However, some back strains are caused by doing the same motion over and over again. This is common with golfers, who torque their spines every time they hit the ball. Repetitive use injuries are also referred to as chronic or overuse injuries. Chronic back pain usually comes on more slowly and lasts longer than acute pain.

What Puts You At A Greater Risk For Repetitive Sports Injuries?

People with a compromised spinal structure may be more likely to experience lumbar pain from repetitive motions. Risk factors include:

• An excessively curved spine

• Being overweight

• Weak abdominal muscles

• Tight hamstrings

• Sports that require pushing and pulling

Sports Medicine Information claims that people who take part in golf, long-distance running, tennis and baseball are more likely than other sports players to deal with repetitive use injuries. Many sports players don’t get enough rest in between sessions to give their bodies time to heal.

Anyone who performs the same motions over and over is susceptible to this type of injury. You don’t have to be a professional to be at risk of developing a repetitive injury. This type of pain afflicts young people as well as older adults 

One case study published at Spine Universe describes a 23-year-old basketball player who complained of lumbar pain while lifting weights. The pain was sharpest in the lower back, and it radiated into the buttocks and thigh.

He was treated with anti-inflammatories, physical therapy and spinal steroid injections. Eventually, these therapies lost their effectiveness. He ended up with a spinal fusion. This highlights the importance of noticing and treating lumbar pain properly before it becomes severe.

Contact Sports And Repetitive Injury

Repeated impact can also contribute to chronic back pain. Recurring microtrauma to the head or neck can result in stingers. This intense pain can feel like an electric shock that runs down your arms, shoulders or back.

These injuries are common in divers, football players, wrestlers and hockey players. The pain may be short-lived, but it often returns.

Stingers and burners can make your arm or hand feel like it has fallen asleep. You may feel jolts of pain or pins and needles. If the pain radiates to the legs or both arms, you may have a spinal cord injury.

This sensation is usually caused by nerve damage. Healthychildren.org says that injured nerves are more likely to be damaged. If you don’t get treatment, you could suffer permanent neurological impairment.

Football player Payton Manning has undergone three surgeries to fix a pinched nerve in his neck. According to Sports Illustrated, pinched nerves are most commonly caused by herniated discs.

The discs between your vertebrae act as shock absorbers. When the disc’s firm outer layer is injured, the inner layer is forced out and can pinch surrounding nerves. 

Payton Manning isn’t the only athlete to have suffered from this condition. Tiger Woods has had more than one back surgery. His surgeries have kept him off the green repeatedly. 

Tiger Woods underwent two microdiscectomy procedures. This minimally invasive surgery is fairly common. It reduces pressure that is placed on nerves from herniated discs. Running is also linked with herniated discs in the spine.

How To Prevent Repetitive Use Injuries

One of the best ways to prevent chronic back pain is to warm up properly before exercising. Taking time to cool down also gives your muscles time to adapt. If you’re just getting into a sport, building up your strength gradually can help you avoid developing this type of injury. Making sure that you maintain proper posture and positioning can help you avoid getting hurt. 

Getting a medical evaluation is crucial for treating lumbar pain. Waiting too long can lead to extended damage.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just like to spend time exercising and playing tennis or golf, you don’t want back pain to compromise your quality of life. Working with a qualified spine specialist can help you learn how to prevent and manage pain before it gets worse.

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