Thanks to your spine, you can put some heat on a tennis serve, absorb the shock of mogul skiing, and squat twice your bodyweight — but you might experience some back pain along the way.
Although athletes don’t typically suffer from injuries related to weak musculoskeletal structure, they do encounter pain related to injury and overuse, and lower back pain is a common complaint.
Dr. Jay M. Shah, our double-board-certified interventional pain specialist at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Colonia and Livingston, New Jersey, helps athletes in every sport at every level identify the source of their low back pain, and treats the underlying cause so they can get back in the game at peak performance.
If you’re an athlete, here’s a closer look at sports injuries that affect your lower back and which treatments can help you recover quickly and fully.
Which sports cause low back injuries?
All athletic activity calls upon your spine for support and movement, but certain sports add an extra measure of strain on your lower back. Tennis, golf, running, basketball, skiing, soccer, and weightlifting are notorious for torquing and twisting that can lead to low back pain, even if you’re strong and fit.
Common sports-related low back injuries
Low back pain often occurs as a result of a traumatic incident. In fact, up to 10% of all athletic injuries involve the lumbar spine (lower back). Here are a few of the specific low back injuries that occur during sports:
Whether you get tackled in football, collide with another soccer player, or tumble down a ski slope, chances are the soft tissues in and around your spine will get stretched and strained.
Excess stress can damage the discs in your spine, causing them to bulge out or rupture, which puts painful pressure on the nerves in and around your spinal canal.
If a herniated disc compresses your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back through your buttock and down your leg, you may experience sciatica, which is pain, tingling, burning, and numbness along the path of the nerve.
Your piriformis muscle is deep inside your glutes, and if it spasms or gets tight, it can irritate your sciatic nerve and cause symptoms similar to sciatica, although they may be more localized in your hip and buttock.
Facet joint dysfunction
Athletes who perform moves that put repetitive stress on their spines — think weightlifters and disc throwers — can damage the small facet joints that enable the back to bend and twist. Facet joint dysfunction makes it difficult to stand up straight or turn your head without turning your whole body.
Sacroiliac joint (SIJ) dysfunction
Sports that require asymmetric loading, such as swinging, kicking, throwing, and standing on one leg, put the athlete at risk for SIJ pain. Golfers, gymnasts, skiers, and football and basketball players are most susceptible, but you can develop SIJ dysfunction from using a stair stepper or elliptical machine, too.
How we treat sports-related low back pain
Dr. Shah understands that, as an athlete, you need to address your low pain quickly and with the least invasive treatment possible so you can get back to your sport, which is why he always begins with nonsurgical orthopedic care and conservative treatments like physical therapy first.
Your body is already fit and primed to heal itself, so he taps into that natural process and helps it along with supplemental modalities, such as acupuncture to reduce inflammation and pain, and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you manage your pain and respond to it differently.
If your low back pain doesn’t respond to conservative treatments, you may need more assertive measures to heal your spine and restore your function. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses radiofrequency energy to gently heat your damaged nerve and prevent it from sending pain signals. Epidural steroid injections bathe your painful nerve with a fast-acting anesthetic that stops pain immediately, and a long-term steroid to reduce inflammation and reduce pain for weeks or months.
In cases where previous back surgery has failed and nerve damage exists, Dr. Shah may recommend spinal cord stimulation, an implantable device that uses low-voltage electrical currents to block pain signals.
For SIJ dysfunction, RFA may alleviate your symptoms, but if not, Dr. Shah may perform minimally invasive SIJ stabilization to fuse your sacrum (the wedge-shaped bone at the bottom of your spine) to your iliac (the top part of your pelvis) to stop the pain.
If surgery becomes necessary, rest assured that Dr. Shah uses minimally invasive techniques whenever possible to repair damaged discs, relieve pressure from nerves, and promote complete healing.
To find out what’s causing your lower back pain, book an appointment with Dr. Shah using our online scheduling tool, or call either of our two New Jersey locations today.