Whenever you step onto the playing field or into the gym, you run the risk of suffering some sort of injury. Whether you’re a committed and competitive athlete or a weekend warrior, back and neck injuries are among the most common, accounting for over 20 percent of all sports injuries. Fifteen percent of young athletes will experience lower back pain, and 75 percent of elite athletes will encounter back pain as well. The incidence of sports related back injuries is highest in baseball and hockey at 89 percent, followed by gymnastics at 85 percent, weightlifting at 80 percent, and soccer, tennis, and golf at 50 percent.
There are two types of sports injuries, overuse injuries and acute single injuries. Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive motion or cumulative trauma as commonly seen in running, golf, and tennis. An acute single injury can be caused by lifting, a fall, or a collision. To prevent sports injuries, consider doing the following:
- Strengthen your core by doing exercises such as planks or crunches. Your core supports your entire body and strengthening it can prevent injury to your back and neck.
- Wear proper shoes and protective gear to reduce impact on your bones and joints.
- Warm up and stretch. Get your body warm before rigorous activity and cool down with some light stretching after exercise to keep your body limber and flexible.
- Don’t overdo it. Even the most elite athletes take rest days to recuperate and recharge. Always listen to your body and never play through pain.
- Get plenty of sleep. If you’re tired and your body overworked, you run the risk of hurting yourself. Sleep is your body’s time to rest, replenish energy and heal.
- Adopt a healthy diet. Exercise requires proper fuel. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet to properly fuel your activity.
- Stay hydrated before and after athletic activity. Be sure to drink plenty of water as becoming dehydrated can increase your chances for injury.
- Maintain an ideal body weight. By maintaining a healthy weight, you’ll put less strain on your muscles, bones and joints and reduce your chances for injury.
If you do sustain an injury, remember the word PRICE:
P: Protect – use a splint if necessary
R: Rest – rest for two to three days and see if your injury starts to improve
I: Ice – use an ice pack in a wet towel for 20 minutes every few hours for two to three days to reduce any swelling, pain or inflammation
C: Compression – apply an ace bandage to add compression to the affected area to help reduce swelling and inflammation
E: Elevate – keep the injured part elevated
If you experience back or neck pain from an athletic or sports injury that is not improving, see your health care provider.
David J. BenEliyahu, DC, DAAPM, DABCSP is the Administrative Director of the Back & Neck Pain Center at Mather Hospital.