Accessibility Tools

What are Sports-Related Spine Injuries?

Sports and exercise are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Sports injuries often affect the spine as a result of inadequate training practices, use of improper protective gear, lack of conditioning, and poor warm-up and stretching.

Anatomy of Spine

The spine provides stability and flexibility to the upper body and protects the spinal cord from injury. It consists of 33 vertebral bones that are stacked on top of one another with cushioning discs lying between adjacent vertebrae. The spine is divided into three different regions; the cervical spinal region which is the topmost part that supports the skull protects the brain stem and enables a wide range of head motion. The thoracic region forms the middle portion of the spine located at the chest level and the lumbar region is the lower portion of the spinal cord that is connected to the hip. The intervertebral discs are present between the vertebral bodies that act as shock absorbers and allow smooth movement of the spine. Nerves from the spinal cord pass through the spaces between the vertebrae called the neural foramina that communicate with the rest of the body.

Symptoms of Sports-Related Spine Injuries

Symptoms of sports-related spine injuries may vary based on the type of injury, and can include:

  • Sudden pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that radiates from the lower back to legs
  • Stiffness in the spine
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the spine
  • Lack of bladder control
  • Increased pain while coughing
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Difficulty breathing

Types of Sports-Related Spine Injuries

The common sports related spine injuries include:

  • Neck injury: Also known as cervical spine injuries, they are quite common in contact sports like football. The cervical nerves undergo stretching or compression and the pain radiates through the arm.
  • Lower back injury: Also known as lumbar spine injuries, they are common in sports that involve twisting movements like golf, repetitive high-impact movements as with gymnastics and running, and excessive loading from weightlifting.
  • Upper back injury: Also known as thoracic spine injuries, this injury occurs in the middle portion of the spine and is common in sports like skiing, tennis, and swimming.

Diagnosis of Sports-Related Spine Injuries

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical and neurological examination will be performed. Diagnostic tests can include the following:

  • CT scan: This test uses a special x-ray machine that creates cross-sectional images to identify any damage in the spine and associated structures.
  • MRI Scan: This is an imaging study that uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to detect any damage to the soft tissues surrounding the spinal cord.
  • X-rays: During this study, high electromagnetic energy beams are used to produce images of the spine and nearby joints.

Treatment for Sports-Related Spine Injuries

Some of the common treatment measures for sports-related spine injuries include:

Conservative methods

  • Resting: Your doctor will recommend that you take a break from sports or avoid performing strenuous physical activities to promote the healing of injured tissues.
  • Ice: You will be advised to apply ice to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Medications: Your doctor will prescribe over-the-counter pain medications to relieve the pain.
  • Physical therapy: Special exercises and other conservative techniques may be recommended to relieve pain.
  • Orthotic Devices: Braces or splints may be used to provide support and improve function.

If these conservative measures are found to be ineffective and if the injury is severe, surgery may be recommended that helps to repair the injured tissues or ruptured discs.