News | Published November 27, 2013

Protect young athletes from lower back injuries

Lower back injuries are often thought of as happening only to older adults, but they also occur in young kids and athletes. In fact, lower back injuries are the third most common injury suffered in athletes under age 18, according to a recent study presented by Loyola University Medical Center sports medicine physician Neeru Jayanthi, MD. The study showed that lower back injuries make up 15 percent of what they see in a sports medicine clinic, with only knee injuries (31 percent) and ankle injuries (16 percent) seen as more common.

That number even surprises me, as I would have thought less back injuries would have occurred. But back injuries do occur in children and many injuries are severe enough to sideline adolescent athletes for about one-to-six months. If these injuries are not properly treated, they can even cause future, long-term back problems.

To help reduce the risk of injuries in your child, here are some tips that Dr. Jayanthi presented:

  • If there's pain in a high-risk area such as the lower back, elbow or shoulder, the athlete should take one day off. If pain persists, take one week off.
  • If symptoms last longer than two weeks, the athlete should be evaluated by a sports medicine physician.
  • In racket sports, athletes should evaluate their form and strokes to limit extending their backs regularly by more than a small amount (20 degrees).
  • Enroll in a structured injury-prevention program taught by qualified professionals.
  • Do not spend more hours per week than your age playing sports. (Younger children are developmentally immature and may be less able to tolerate physical stress.)
  • Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play.
  • Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.
  • Do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).
  • Take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

If your child experiences a back injury, it needs to be taken seriously. Please see your pediatrician if your child has any back pain that lasts more than a couple days.