Those intrepid athletes who are thinking about participating in a favorite sport or physical activity this weekend should take a look around. The odds are good that some of those fellow “weekend warriors” who are getting ready to hit the running or hiking trail, tee up that golf ball or hit the lap pool may be calling the doctor’s office or showing up at the emergency room in a few days with serious back pain. Amateur athletes, who try to cram in as many hours as possible of physical activity during one weekend, are responsible for about 10,000 emergency room visits each day, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The reason for this epidemic of sports-related injuries is due to the wide range of activities available during the spring, summer and fall months and a lack of proper preparation on the part of the “occasional’ athletes. Some of the more popular pursuits for weekend warriors include running, hiking, swimming, golf, tennis, soccer, softball, basketball, weightlifting and fishing. Each is perfectly safe and offers the advantages of improved heart and lung function along with possible weight reduction. Unfortunately, each can also cause painful injuries when there is a lack of conditioning and improper body mechanics.
Dr. Rob Dickerman, a neurosurgeon in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and a member of the referral line at Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center, has seen his share of back injuries caused by overexertion and under-conditioning.
“Participation in weekend sports can affect the body in many positive ways,” he said. “However, without proper conditioning and body mechanics, the muscles, ligaments, and joints are susceptible to strain and injury. By participating in physical activities, a great deal of stress is placed on the spine and the structures surrounding it. In many cases, this can result in injuries, particularly to the lumbar (lower back).
“There are several good ways to avoid the suffering of back pain caused by an over-indulgence in ‘weekend warfare.'”
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6 Ways to Avoid Back Pain from Weekend Athletic Activity
#1 Warm Up and Cool Down
“Even highly conditioned, professional athletes, spend a great deal of time warming up all of their muscle groups before an athletic contest or workout,” Dr. Dickerman said. “This process is even more important for amateur athletes who might participate only once or twice a week.
“Golf is especially strenuous to one’s back, and it is critical to stretch before playing and ease up on the swing. Several PGA players have experienced serious back injuries as a result of changing their swings to give more torque resulting in a greater distance to their shots. These are the best golf athletes on the planet, and even they experience back injuries from awkward mechanics.
“Runners, swimmers, tennis players and softball players should also make it a point to warm up for 15 minutes before their activity. They should also stretch those muscles used in the activity after it is completed. Reducing this muscle tension by post-event stretching helps ease soreness and the potential for further muscle strain. I’m also a strong proponent for cooling down after a strenuous workout and this includes icing down the back muscles.”
#2 Build Core Strength and Stretch Every Day
“Any physical activity requires strength among the core muscles, including the abdominal and back muscles and those muscles around the pelvis. Having strong core muscles can help prevent back injuries. Planking is an excellent, low-impact core exercise.
“Stretching the muscles impacted by one’s favorite activity every day (not just gameday) is also critical to avoiding back injuries. The best time to do this is just before going to bed. Relaxing these muscles can also lead to better sleep.”
#3 Consider Hiking, Swimming, and Bicycling Instead of Contact Sports
“While there is still a chance of accidents in these three activities, they are much less likely to cause back injuries,” Dr. Dickerman said. “In each of these sports, the participant can adjust speed and intensity to a less strenuous level and increase this as conditioning improves. Each also helps build lung capacity, blood circulation, and weight loss.”
#4 Be Careful in the Gym
“It never ceases to amaze me how many injuries can occur in the weight room at a gym,” he said. “Even in supervised classes, participants will try to make up for having no physical activity during the week with an overextension during the weekend.
“Here are some suggestions for avoiding back injuries from weekend strength training. First, avoid back exercise machines as they put undue stress on the intervertebral discs. Also, consider doing abdominal crunches instead of sit-ups, because repetitive bending at the waist can cause injury. Try an elliptical trainer rather than a treadmill or jogging. There is less impact on the spine. Finally, avoid free weights when first starting a strength-training regimen. Later, when conditioning is improved, get advice from a professional trainer on proper technique.”
#5 Wear the Correct Shoes for the Sport
“Every sport has its unique demands for running, cutting, jumping and swinging,” Dr. Dickerman said. “Back injuries are more likely to occur when improper or worn-out shoes are used by the participant. In sports such as soccer, golf and softball cleated shoes are critical for maintaining stability. Running shoes, especially those that have been used for too many months, can cause both back, ankle and knee injuries. The best approach is to get advice from an athletic sports expert at a sporting goods store.”
#6 Lose Weight
“Excess body weight can wreak havoc on ones back, and this is especially true for someone who is involved in sports or physical activity for one or two days a week,” he said. “This presents a challenge because weekend warriors are often using this activity to attempt to lose weight. Unfortunately, this excess weight puts intense strain on the spine and running, jumping or swinging at golf balls can exacerbate this stress.
“The best approach to this challenge is to get advice from a nutrition expert or physician on a healthy diet and exercise program that will lead to gradual, long-term weight reduction. The good news about this scenario is that any regular physical activity will help supercharge this weight-loss program.”
Overcome back pain and get back to life! Contact our referral line to connect with a participating spine specialist in the DFW area.
Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of THSOC.