You may play sports rarely, on a regular basis, or at a competitive level. No matter how involved you are, consider these questions before returning to any sport after a back injury:
In deciding when and if to return to a sport after having low back pain, the amount of stress that any sport places on your spine is an important factor to consider. If you would like to return to a more intense sport or a contact sport, talk to your health care provider and physical therapist about whether you can do this safely. Contact sports or more intense sports may not be a good choice for you if you:
Doing any activity over too long a period can cause injury. Activities that involve contact, heavy or repetitive lifting, or twisting (especially when moving or at high-speed) can also cause injury.
These are some general tips about when to return to sports and conditioning. It may be safe to return to your sport when you have:
The type of back injury or problem you are recovering from is a factor for deciding when you can return to your sport. These are general guidelines:
Large muscles of your abdomen, upper legs, and buttocks attach to your spine and pelvic bones. They help stabilize and protect your spine during activity and sports. Weakness in these muscles may be part of the reason you first injured your back. After resting and treating your symptoms after your injury, these muscles will most likely be even weaker and less flexible.
Getting these muscles back to the point where they support your spine well is called core strengthening. Your health care provider and physical therapist will teach you exercises to strengthen these muscles. It is important to do these exercises correctly to prevent further injury and strengthen your back.
Once you are ready to return to your sport:
When you are ready to begin the movements and actions involved in your sport, start slowly. Before going full force, take part in the sport at a less intense level. See how you feel that night and the next day before you slowly increase the force and intensity of your movements.
Drezner JA, Harmon KG, O'Kane JW. Sports medicine. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 29.
Lauerman W, Russo M. Thoracolumbar spine disorders in the adult. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 128.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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