Low back pain is not uncommon. In fact, approximately 80% of us suffer from some form of back pain at sometime in our life. However, athletes are at higher risk for chronic and acute back injuries due to their level of activity. Even the most fit athletes are known to sustain lumbar (lower) spine injuries due to the strenuous activity they subject their bodies to.
While on ESPN’s Sunday morning radio program, “Laying Down The Law,” Dr. Adam Bruggeman – the official spine surgeon of the UTSA Roadrunners Football team spoke to host Steve Foster about football and back injuries.
It was brought up that the most common injuries that cause back pain in the young athlete are muscle strains and ligament sprains. They can be the result of poor technique, lack of good conditioning, insufficient stretching, or a dynamic trauma. Many cases can be traced to a single event; others are brought about by repetitive minor injuries that result in micro traumas. The traumatic event can be the result of a “flight maneuver.” This is when an athlete is airborne and lands on a hard surface, such as the floor, turf or water. Other activities associated with spinal injuries include blocking in football, takedowns in wrestling, and use of heavy weights and attempts at complex free-weight lifts in weight training.
One of the more common sports injuries is known as a “Stinger.” A Stinger is most common in football and wrestling, to defensive backs, linebackers, or offensive linemen. The injury occurs in one of two ways: either one of the nerves of the spinal cord in the neck is compressed as the head is forced backward and toward that side; or the nerves in the neck and shoulder are over-stretched as the head is forced sideways away from the shoulder. The result is a sudden and severe painful, electrical sensation in one of the arms frequently lasting from seconds to minutes, occasionally hours and less frequently days or longer. While it is usually a spinal injury, it is never a spinal cord injury. The Stinger occurs most commonly in contact and collision sports, but is not as catastrophic as a spinal cord injury and does not result in paralysis of the arms and legs. A Stinger can work its way out pretty quickly. However, Stingers tend to recur and if not properly diagnosed and treated can lead to persistent pain or even arm weakness, which can eventually result in extended lost playing time.
It is not uncommon for an athlete to avoid seeking medical help if they get hurt. Many of them ignore the pain to avoid losing a position on the team, missing a game, or letting the team down. Some athletes don’t even bother seeing a doctor; they believe it will get better on its own or they can play through the pain. However, avoiding treatment can lead to a more serious injury.
The most common treatment solution for the serious athlete or the “weekend warrior” should be ice and over the counter anti-inflammatories. If the symptoms continue, especially if you suffer muscle spasms, applying heat can help alleviate the pain and discomfort.
But if the symptoms get worse after a few days or continue beyond two weeks, then a medical assessment is necessary. The physician may order specific tests such as X-ray examinations, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or an electromyogram (EMG) which is designed to evaluate for nerve damage. Occasionally a Stinger can result from a disk herniation in the neck. If so, this should be confirmed on the MRI.
Dr. Adam Bruggeman MD heads up Texas Spine Careof San Antonio and has quickly been building a reputation in San Antonio and surrounding areas as the premier spine surgeon in the South Texas region.