Back Pain in Young Athletes is different than in Adults
Back pain is not exclusive to adults. In fact at least 15% of all young athletes experience back pain. This statistic is higher in certain sports like football, gymnastics and volleyball. But back pain in young athletes is often very different than in adults.
The injuries youth athletes are significantly different than adults. Injuries to the spinous process are significantly higher in young athletes, while disc injuries are more common in adults. Adults typically have fewer injuries to the spinous process, but incur more injuries to the vertebrae disc.
Children experience periods of rapid growth, soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments are unable to keep pace with the rate of bone growth, resulting in muscle imbalances and a decrease in flexibility. This can place young athletes at greater risk for injury.
Although injuries are a part of sport, there are ways to reduce the risk of injury in young athletes. Recognizing risk factors are a key component to reducing injury. Prior to the start of a sport season, an evaluation may identify certain risk factors, such as previous injuries that have not been fully rehabilitated or muscle weaknesses or inflexibility. These areas can then be addressed prior to the start of the season. Additionally, athletes should start general strength and fitness conditioning several weeks before the start of the season. Increases in the frequency and intensity of training should be gradual to allow for safe adaptation to the demands of the sport.
During periods of growth, young athletes are prone to loss of flexibility and muscle imbalances that can predispose them to injury. Because of this concern, young athletes should reduce the amount of training and the volume of repetitive motions during growth spurts. Certain sports require maneuvers that place a lot of stress on the posterior spine, such as layback spins in figure skating and walkovers in gymnastics. Athletes may need to limit the number of repetitions of these maneuvers, particularly if there is pain associated with these maneuvers. Core-strengthening exercises and stretches for tight hamstrings and hip flexors may help reduce the risk of low back pain.