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Lower Back Injuries in Teen Athletes

By: Ashton Stanton, MD

As a physiatrist specializing in spine and sports medicine, I treat athletes who have back and neck pain. Often times, these are sports related injuries. When it comes to student athletes, the most common back problem I see are disc injuries and stress fractures to the lower spine. These types of injuries can happen during weight training for any sport due to improper technique or using too much weight. It can be very beneficial to meet with an athletic trainer (AT) or certified strength and conditioning coach (CSCS) to learn proper form and set up a training program individualized for the athlete based on the sport program and personal fitness level.

Teen athletes grow very quickly, and are often taller than they are strong. This means they can have the potential to develop core instability, leaving their lower backs susceptible to injury. Additionally, kids often work out together, and the friendly competition can push teens to lift more weight than they should. Developmentally, some exercises are also not appropriate for teens. And finally, repetitive workouts can lead to overtraining of some muscles that leads to postural imbalance, again opening a potential for injury. This can also be the case for students who specialize in one sport and therefore may overtrain or overuse one part of the body.

A stress fracture in the spine can take up to 3 months to heal, putting an athlete out for the season. A disc injury may heal faster, but can have ongoing or recurring back pain and/or radiating nerve pain in the long-term. If you do suspect an injury, a physiatrist can evaluate you and determine if there is an injury that needs to be addressed. We work closely with physical therapists, athletic trainers, and certified strength and conditioning coaches to get teen and adult athletes safely back to play.

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