Maintaining an active lifestyle is always important to good health, but it can also come with the occasional risk. Most athletes, for example, can be susceptible to injury, including injuries to the back. Common sports-related back injuries may include:
- Muscle strains and sprains
- Stingers (pinched nerves in the neck or shoulder, usually due to an impact or twisted motion)
- Herniated or ruptured discs
- Spine stress fractures
- Trauma-related fractures
Sometimes sports-related back injuries can occur due to a sudden impact or fall, as frequently happens in many contact sports. Sometimes they occur due to inadequate or improper warm-ups and stretching before getting on the field, court or track. Back injuries also sometimes occur over time due to repetitive motion as the athlete makes the same moves over and over again.
However, it happens… when you experience gradual or sudden back pain as a result of athletic activity, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. The injury may or may not be enough to sideline you, but writing it off as “part of the game” can make your injuries worse — and in extreme cases it may even take you off the field permanently.
The good news is that most sports-related back injuries are treatable, and in many cases, prompt treatment can get you back in the game with relatively little “downtime.” Below is an overview of 6 general treatment options for athletic back injuries, ranging from mild to severe.
Believe it or not, most mild sports-related injuries can heal themselves if you give them a little time — especially with strains and sprains. This is why you shouldn’t ignore the pain — aggravating the injured area may only prolong the injury or make it more severe. Your doctor may simply prescribe some time off the field or track, coupled with some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to manage the pain while healing takes place.
2. Massage therapy
Massage therapy is also an excellent tool to manage pain and promote healing. For this treatment, it’s important to work with a licensed massage therapist who is skilled and trained in integrated medical massage, as the wrong types of therapy may aggravate your injuries. That said, proper massage techniques can relax and destress inflamed muscles and give them space to heal.
3. Physical therapy
Many sports-related back injuries occur due to incorrect or imbalanced movements over time. A physical therapist can help retrain your body in adjusting those movements to relieve stress to affected areas and protect joints, muscles and ligaments from injury-inducing friction. Physical therapy combined with a prescribed exercise plan can effectively “reset” your body to get you back into the game pain-free.
4. Aquatic therapy
When your back injuries are aggravated due to the regular impacts of your sport (e.g., running or physical contact), aquatic therapy provides a way to maintain your body’s strength and flexibility in a low-impact environment so those tender areas can heal. The warm water also relieves stress and relaxes muscles to help manage the pain.
When back pain from your injuries restricts movement or becomes debilitating — or if repeated motion continues to aggravate injuries and cause tissue damage — your spinal specialist may recommend any of a variety of injections at or near the injury site designed to relieve pain and/or promote healing. These may include any of the following:
- Epidural steroid injections (ESI)
- Facet injections (providing pain relief to inflamed facet joints between vertebrae
- Medial branch block injections (MBB)
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint injections
- Regenerative injections (injecting concentrations of the body’s own healing materials to accelerate healing in the spine)
When a sports-related back injury is sudden, acute or particularly debilitating, or if other forms of treatment don’t work, the doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to correct the source of the problem or repair damage. The type of surgery obviously depends on the location and type of injury; some procedures may be done on an outpatient basis, while others may require a hospital stay. In many procedures, full recovery may occur within 4-6 weeks, while more severe injuries may require months of recovery and rehabilitation. All surgery is invasive, so for that reason, your doctor will usually only recommend a surgical procedure as a last resort.
If you have experienced a sports-related back injury, your spinal specialist is the best doctor to help determine the source of the problem and prescribe a treatment to get you back in the game as soon as possible. To learn more, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center today at 404-256-2633.