With the goal of staying fit and active, many of us choose to play sports rather than head to the gym. It’s easy to understand why; when we think of playing football or basketball, we typically think of it as a fun, leisure activity, while going to the gym, or doing other forms of exercise, can often feel like a chore. So it’s easy to forget, in the heat of the moment, just how much hard work our bodies are doing. Maybe you skipped a warm-up, pushed yourself too hard, got tackled at the wrong moment, or simply had an accident; sports injuries happen to the best of us and almost a fifth of them affect the back.
Injuries aren’t always immediately noticeable; it’s quite common to first notice a problem when you wake up the next morning in pain, leading to confusion about what exactly caused it. Some of the most common causes of back injury in sports are:
- Forgetting to warm up; while some recent research has indicated that warming up prior to exercising isn’t as necessary as we often assume, warm-up stretches prepare the muscles for the stress they’re about to go through and should never be skipped, no matter what sport you play.
- Repetitive movements; sports such as swimming, golf, jogging and weightlifting all involve repetitive movements that put strain on the muscles in the back.
- Contact sports; for example, rugby. Injuries are common in contact sports and often affect the back or neck.
Types of Injury
If you don’t notice an injury until after you’ve finished playing, it’s probably a chronic injury. Chronic injuries are typically recurring and first appear after playing the sport for a while. A chronic injury often aches and is more painful when you play. They can also be accompanied by swelling.
Acute injuries, however, are immediately noticeable. They can occur very suddenly and are often extremely painful. Acute injuries can also cause swelling and limited movement.
So what can you do if you get injured? If you are in extreme pain, or the injury has caused a flare-up of an older injury, you should always see a doctor. It’s possible to treat most other injuries yourself, but if you don’t see any improvement, or the injury gets worse, make an appointment with your doctor.
If it’s safe to treat yourself, the first thing you need to remember is to rest. Immediately after injuring yourself, and for approximately two days after, avoid putting too much strain on your back and, whenever possible, stay sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Use an ice pack on the area to relieve pain up to eight times a day, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Using a back support will also be very helpful following an injury. Back supports provide compression and support for your back and spine, helping to relieve pain while also adjusting your posture and minimizing any risk of further injury. A back support will also help you in the days and weeks following your injury; as you begin to recover and get back to normal, doing light exercise and daily activities that may put strain on your back, the support will limit movement in your back, avoiding aggravation of your injury. There are many different types of back supports available, so you should be able to find one that’s a good fit for your injury.
Injuring your back doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to play sports again. By treating your injury as described above and slowly beginning to exercise the area through gentle movements and stretches, you will begin to recover. Use a support at first and go slow; don’t get impatient and don’t play sports again until you can stretch and move without pain. Remember to always see a doctor if the pain gets worse or doesn’t improve.
When you’re ready to get back to playing, remember to follow these tips to avoid another injury:
- Always warm-up or stretch before you play and cool down afterwards.
- Don’t push yourself; if you’re tired or in pain, stop.
- If your sport involves jumping, remember to land with bent knees.
- Always wear suitable footwear and clothing, including safety equipment where necessary.
- Try not to always do the same thing; a healthy body needs a balance of cardio, flexibility and strength exercises.
In some cases, sports injuries can be inevitable. However, if you rest, use a back support when you’re in pain and avoid pushing yourself beyond your limits, you’ll be back to normal in no time.
My name is Paul Smith and I have suffered from sporting back injuries many times and so offer this advice so that you can avoid doing so!