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Most Athletes Should Tackle Back Pain Head On
By Rhonda Mann
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Staff
What do NBA legend Larry Bird, skating sensation Tara Lipinski and hall of fame quarterback Joe Montana have in common? They all excelled in their sports-but they also all suffered from back pain.
"Back pain, in particular low back pain, is not uncommon among athletes-both those who are world-class and those who are weekend warriors," says
Dr. Andrew White of the
Spine Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The good news is most back pain caused during sports training or competition will likely go away on its own. In fact, while pain can occasionally be caused by more serious conditions, Dr. White says about two-thirds of lower back pain cases tend to be the result of
"Older people are more comfortable having pain. They seem to accept it better," says Dr. White. "When young people have pain, especially younger athletes, it's natural for them to think there is something broken. It's scary and their first instinct is to stop exercising."
Dr. White says the first thing he tries to do is reassure these patients that it's okay to work through the pain. He says taking away the anxiety and hesitancy they feel is key to getting them back on their feet.
"A lot of what we do is encourage them. We tell them to stay optimistic. And to stay active," explains Dr. White. "Once the patient gets their confidence level back and understands they can control and help heal the injury, they can overcome it."
Dr. White believes "active" treatments such as exercise work much better than "passive" ones.
"Giving the patient medication or sending them to physical therapy where the therapist does all the work can sometimes reinforce the role of being injured and can take control away from patients," he says.
Of course, it's always best to prevent injury in the first place when possible. There are a number of different exercises that Dr. White believes can help keep back injuries at bay on the field or court.
"It comes down to spinal stability-and doing exercises can help
strengthen the core," explains Dr. White. "Working abdominal muscles and large muscles in the back and other muscles across the hips and chest can make athletes-especially those weekend-warrior types, less prone to injury."
Recommended exercises include:
Back Extensions: Otherwise known a "reverse back extensions." Lay on your belly and put your hands out in front on you. Extent hips to lift whole legs off the floor. Try one leg at a time and hold for 15 seconds. As you get better, lift both legs at the same time. Once you master this, take it to "Superman Pose" level by also lifting both arms off the floor so you are balancing on your chest.
Plank: Lay facing the ground, but pull yourself up onto your elbows and toes. It's like a half-pushup, but with the weight on the elbows and forearms, not hands. Hold the position for 15 seconds. Then repeat.
Side-Plank: To vary the above, rotate 90 degrees so you are looking at the wall. Pull yourself up onto your elbow and hang there with your muscles contracted for 15 seconds. Repeat. Then do the other side.
Pelvic Tilt: Laying on your back, place hands on your belly. Tilt your pelvis (by pushing your lower back into the ground). Hold for 15 seconds. Then repeat.
"These exercises will help you build a strong mid-section and increase confidence that you can work out with getting hurt," says Dr. White
Other things you can do - lose weight if you need to, and practice good posture -- head up and chest forward.
"One of the reasons you don't see many back injuries among golfers is because they typically have great posture," says Dr. White. He adds that hockey players are one group that tend to have frequent back pain issues, due to the bent over position, the speed they travel and the force with which they hit each others and the boards.
"No matter what sport you love, or how good you are at it, working on those core muscles a couple times a week can make a big difference when it comes to back pain," says Dr. White.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted March 2010