For athletes, sports injuries are a fact of life. When you’re depending on your body to push it to the finish line and meet extraordinary physical goals, there’s bound to be some collateral damage along the road. Luckily, many common sports injuries — like strains and sprains — are relatively minor in the grand scheme of an athletic career. These injuries can often be non-surgically rehabilitated in a week or two depending on the severity and the athlete’s personal history of sports injuries.
In this guide to sports-related spine injuries, we’ll discuss how to prevent back injuries while playing sports, how to treat a sports-related back injury, and what to expect when rehabbing a back injury.
Outside of a consistent training schedule, being a healthy, strong athlete really comes down to about taking care of your body. Eating the right foods and drinking plenty of water will help you properly fuel your workouts and help you develop the strength and endurance you need to succeed. However, another way athletes must take care of their bodies is by knowing their physical limits and knowing how to respond in the moment when an injury might be imminent.
Believe it or not, knowing one’s body doesn’t always come easily for everyone — this type of second-nature mindfulness is developed through years of training. For example, a crucial part of a martial arts practice is knowing how to fall “correctly,” which helps these athletes prevent back injuries through years of being slammed to the ground. Likewise, a weightlifter must learn early on how and when to “fail” properly during training, or else risk hundreds of pounds of barbell weight throwing out his or her back.
New or inexperienced athletes (though also plenty of experienced athletes, as well) who are still testing the limits of their abilities are more likely to overdo it in training and less likely to not know the signs of an imminent injury. At Polaris Spine and Neurosurgery Center, we’ve seen many athlete patients suffer from severe back pain — some of these spinal injuries are the result of trauma, but many others are caused by preventable exercise mistakes that exacerbate back pain.
Even the most cautious athlete may experienced a back injury at some point or another. When an athlete throws out their back, the first thing they must do is halt the activity. Then, they will need to administer basic first aid for back injuries — when the injury is fresh, it should be iced to reduce inflammation. After that, icing may be alternated with heat, which loosens up the muscles and helps reduce some of the pain. If necessary, over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen will do the trick. If the injury is especially severe and the athlete is not finding relief, it may be time to see a spine doctor for a more robust treatment and pain management plan.
Depending on the severity of the injury, our spine doctors at Polaris may recommend one or more treatments for sports-related back injuries, such as physical therapy, chiropractice care, aquatic therapy, massage therapy, regenerative injections, or surgery.
One of the first questions athletes ask when undergoing treat for a spine injury is “when is it safe for me to start training again?” There are many factors that affect how soon an athlete can return to sports after a back injury — the severity of the injury, the patient’s personal medical history, and whether or not the patient’s injury required back surgery.
Spine rehabilitation is also crucial if an athlete wants to prevent aggravating or re-injuring themselves. Rehabilitating a back injury caused by exercise is a careful balancing act of staying active while also not pushing it too hard. When patients are ready to resume exercise, they may want to start out with low-impact sports that don’t compromise the spine — such as gentle yoga, swimming, or tai chi — while avoiding high-impact exercise and contact sports.
Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center is staffed with some of the best spinal surgeons in Georgia. We always exhaust all non-surgical options for treatment before recommending surgery. If you’re an athlete suffering from a back injury or back pain and are looking for options for non-surgical spine rehabilitation, call us today at 404-256-2633 for an appointment.