Back and Neck
Lower (lumbar) back pain
- Overview: While back pain is very common, all athletes should seek medical attention immediately. Back pain can present itself in many different forms, including back strain (musculoligamentous strain), spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis, herniated discs, or other causes.
- Cause: Athletes are at a greater risk than most individuals for sustaining lower back pain and injuries. From basketball to tennis and everything in between, sports can place a lot of stress on the spine.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: Muscular strains and spondylolysis are two of the most common causes of low back pain. Low back pain is usually easily treated with conservative means, but many athletes minimize the discomfort and continue to play through it. Treatment often includes core strengthening, flexibility and other exercises.
- Overview: Neck pain can originate from many areas near the neck (such as muscles, tendons, discs, and even nerves). Symptoms include pain and stiffness and potentially referred pain elsewhere if there is also nerve irritation.
- Cause: Neck pain in athletes can be the result of minor sprains, strains or contusions. Neck pain can also be caused by incorrect posture for a prolonged period of time.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and EMG tests may be used to diagnosis and evaluate the cause of neck pain. Treatment may look differently depending on the severity of the issue. Some athletes will need to ice the injury and work through physical therapy. Surgery may be required if conservative treatment is not successful within the first two months.
- Overview: A clavicle fractures are commonly known as a broken collarbone. These usually occur after a fall onto the shoulder or an outstretched arm.
- Cause: Clavicle fractures often occur in contact sports, such as football or rugby, after colliding with another player.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: Your physician will perform an X-ray to confirm the fracture, and then immobilize the arm in a sling, collar, cuff, or figure-eight bandage. Light exercises can be performed after one to two weeks of complete immobilization. Rehabilitation will focus on mobility exercises and stretches.
SLAP (Superior Labrum, Anterior to Posterior) tear
- Overview: The labrum is a ring of firm tissue (labrum) that helps keep the arm bone securely in the shoulder socket. Athletes may experience popping or clicking of the shoulder, pain when moving the arm overhead, feelings of weakness or shoulder instability, and aching pain that may not come from a specific point.
- Cause: Many things can cause SLAP tears: falling onto an outstretched arm or shoulder, lifting heavy objects repeatedly, or doing too many overhead activities, such as throwing a baseball.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: Your physician will diagnose SLAP tears by moving the shoulder joint around to understand which movements are causing the pain. MRIs may be used as well. Arthroscopic surgery is necessary to confirm the SLAP tear diagnosis—your doctor may be able to repair the tear at the same time.
Rotator cuff injury
- Overview: The rotator cuff includes four tendons and muscles in the shoulder joint. Overuse and repeated stress can cause tears in the rotator cuff. Common symptoms include pain in the shoulder and arm, shoulder weakness and trouble moving the shoulder and arm.
- Cause: Most athletes who sustain rotator cuff injuries play in sports that involve repeated overhand throwing, such as baseball. These injuries are also common in swimmers, tennis players, and football players.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: Treating a rotator cuff tear involves rest and icing. Your doctor may suggest range-of-motion exercises and physical therapy. More serious injuries may require surgery.
- Overview: Shoulder dislocations cause the head of the humerus to dislocate out of the back (posterior) or front (anterior) of the joint. The athlete may feel the shoulder pop out of the joint at the moment of impact.
- Cause: Falling onto an outstretched arm most often causes dislocated shoulders. A sudden blow to the shoulder or extreme rotation may also push the bones out of place. Dislocated shoulders are most common in contact sports, such as hockey and football, and sports in which falling is a possibility, like gymnastics, skiing and volleyball.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: The athlete should seek medical attention immediately. Physical exams and X-rays may be used to diagnose the injury. Your doctor may try to move the shoulder bones back in place. If the shoulder joint and ligaments are weak, surgery may be required. Most athletes will need to keep their shoulder immobilized with a sling. You will begin a rehabilitation program once the sling is removed.
Visit our Concussions page to learn more about this traumatic brain injury and how to manage concussions.