It is probably the most common injury complaint that we see as physical therapists. Back Pain. Not only is it common but it can be debilitating. As many of you know we work heavily with athletic injuries and it may come as a surprise but back pain in athletes is more common than many would expect.

How common?

Well this is the question that a worldwide group of researchers were looking to answer. What they did was combine as many study findings across as many sports that they could that discussed how common back pain and injuries were in various sports and potential causes of back pain across such sports. 

What they found was that back pain is extremely common in athletic populations. In fact back pain may be more common in sport then in the general population of non athletes. Despite many athletes having greater physical capability than the general populace, back pain remained more than a sore point. In fact the researchers found that it was commonly a major cause for early sport retirements.

So why do athletes get back pain?

The causes of back pain in athletes is not significantly different to the general population. Back pain often occurs when exposed to repetitive tasks, either when we are unprepared or when we have to perform them excessively. The fact that athletes commonly have to perform very high mechanical loads on the spine during their sport (think fast bowling in cricket, hockey or rowing) provides the opportunity for significant overload to the structures and the related structures up and down the kinetic chain. 

Given the high prevalence of back pain, is the rehab approach different?

Typically rehabilitation for back pain in athletes follows similar principles to the general populace. Management of loads (in their instance competition and training loads), addressing biomechanical drivers and developing the physical capacities to tolerate the volumes of these mechanical loads is key to successful return to sport following back pain or injury episodes. 

To get a better understanding of how common back pain is in athletes read the meta-analysis here: