Spine Injuries in Sports

While you may love the game, you should know the dangers behind the sport you play when it comes to protecting your spine. In a 2008 study investigating spinal injuries in sports, Boden & Jarvis found that sports account for over eight percent of new spinal cord problems each year. This number could be reduced with proper training, protection, and avoiding sports that cause spine stress altogether.

What Leads to Spine Injuries in Sports?

Your first guess might be high-impact sports like football and rugby. However, high-impact sports are not the only causes of spinal injury in sports. Lower-impact sports that involve using the same movements over and over like running, tennis, and golf are harmful when not executed properly. This leads to overuse with immediate or long-term ramifications later in life.

Other back injuries may be caused by improper form during activities like tackling and swinging, lack of stretching, and direct impact to the spinal cord.

Types of Spine Injuries:

In order to avoid spine injuries, you might want to know a few common ones that occur in sport:

Spondylolysis is a stress fracture of the vertebra that strikes athletes whose sport involves bends and rotations. It is common amongst adolescents and in sports such as golf, wrestling, and gymnastics.

A stinger is frequent in high contact sports. Also known as burners, stingers are not as catastrophic as an injury to the spinal cord. Stingers occur if the back or neck is twisted quickly, like from a hard tackle or over extending during a game. If left unattended, stringers may reoccur and cause severe pain.

Herniated disks occur when the outer part of your disc tears, exposing the inner portion. A herniated disk may be extremely painful and limit your activity. This injury is more common amongst older athletes and is caused by overusing back muscles, according to Mayo Clinic.

Preventing Spine Injuries

While there is no way to out-and-out eliminate spinal injuries, there are measures you can take to limit them:

  1. Warm up and stretch – Warm up any areas that will be used during your sporting activities. If your sport involves heavy usage of your back, make sure to incorporate back stretches.
  2. Wear protective gear – Use protective gear if provided or necessary. Back belts and braces are helpful during heavy lifting.
  3. Know your surroundings – Sports like diving require you to know your surroundings. You are most likely safe if you are diving at an event, however, if you’re somewhere unfamiliar, ensure the water is deep enough for diving.
  4. Maintain good posture– A lot of back injuries are caused by over pressure. It is good to keep your posture as good as possible to lessen the pressure on your back and reduce injury risk.

Spine Injury Symptoms

You may find it challenging to distinguish between a spine injury or general pain. Here are some common symptoms of spinal cord injuries:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Trouble moving your limbs
  • Numbness or tingling that spreads through extremities
  • Headaches
  • Stiffness located in the back or neck
  • Unnatural head positioning
  • Shock

If you are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, you should contact an orthopedic physician to rule out spine injury. Some spine injuries are more serious than others and should be treated immediately.

Spine Conditions: Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a spinal condition that causes the spine to curve sideways, forming a C or S shape and leading to back pain or impaired movements. Severe cases of scoliosis may limit normal functionality and even affect breathing. However, most cases of scoliosis are minor in nature. Conditions range from mild to severe and should be monitored case-by-case. According to OrthoInfo, surgery is usually recommended for curves 40° or greater.

Causes of Scoliosis

Not every case of scoliosis has a known cause, but many can be attributed to certain factors such as genetics or birth defects. Disorders, such as cerebral palsy and Marfan syndrome, can lead to scoliosis. Other known, but less common, causes of scoliosis include tumors and infections.

Signs of Scoliosis

While these conditions do not necessarily indicate scoliosis, if one or more of these conditions are present, further testing should be done:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • Uneven waist
  • Offset eye alignment
  • Tilted body shape

Treating Scoliosis

Scoliosis treatment varies by the severity of the condition. Doctors use x-rays to determine the amount of curvature the spine has undergone.

Mild scoliosis may require no treatment at all. Generally, it is still recommended to check-in with your doctor every 4-6 weeks to ensure the condition hasn’t worsened.

Other cases of scoliosis, where the curvature is prominent, may require more imaging. MRIs can be used in addition to the x-rays for more detail. A child at risk for developing curvature may be given a brace to help realign their spine. This brace can be worn for years, until the child has finished their growth spurt.

Severe cases of scoliosis require surgery to straighten the spine. Surgery may help correct the curve and alleviate pain.

Johns Hopkins Medicine finds there are nearly three million new scoliosis cases each year in the United States alone. Many cases are deemed mild and thus require little treatment. However, scoliosis can be a severely debilitating condition, especially if you don’t act. If you are showing signs of scoliosis, it is best to play it safe and visit a spine specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.

Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons