Sports such as football and skiing involve high compressive forces via collision impact or ground reaction. This excessive loading of the spine under high velocity combined with a forward bent posture can cause vertebral endplate lesions or anterior intravertebral disk herniation (Rachbauer, 2001). Forward bending greatly increases intradiskal pressure, causing fracture of the normal vertebral endplate. In baseball and golf, athletes perform forward bending and rotation while swinging, which applies shear stresses to the spine that can lead to annular tears of the intervertebral disks. In gymnastics and dance, vigorous lumbar flexion and extension movements produce tensile stresses on the spine, which can strain the surrounding lumbodorsal fascia, muscles, or ligaments. In addition, repetitive hyperextension of the low back, which is common in numerous sports (football, gymnastics, diving, figure skating) can lead to the development of spondylolysis – stress fractures of the pars interarticularis (Jagadish, 2013). With the various movements (flexion, extension, rotation) involved in sports combined with external loading, the lumbar spine can be damaged due to a combination of compression, shear, and tensile stresses. It is important to take all of this into account when providing exercise prescription for each athlete’s respective sport.
ASP athlete and founder, Jack Cooney, understands, implements and practices first hand, the programming necessary, across all sports, to strengthen the posterior chain and involved structures that support the spine.
Interestingly, a study on surfers’ low back pain, reported CT scans that showed no fractures or disk herniation and MRI studies that showed no spinal cord compression, acute disk changes, or ligamentous injury (Chang et al., 2012). This non-traumatic spinal cord injury is known as surfer’s myelopathy. The hypothesis is that the low back pain is associated with lumbar hyperextension and ischemia (lack of blood flow) resulting in tissue death of the great anterior radicular artery which provides the blood supply to the lumbar and sacral cord. Lying prone on a surfboard in a hyperextended position with simultaneous paddling and maneuvering requires well-developed back musculature (Shuster, 2011). Therefore, novice surfers may exert considerable forces on the spine if insufficiently trained muscles cannot protect the back.
At ASP we make sure that every one of our athletes is fully aware of their required posture for each exercise and the implications on the spine through positioning, breathe, and their individual bony structure.
Similarly as in sport, daily life, prolonged sitting and slouched posture can increase compressive forces on the lumbar spine exposing it to injury. Sitting has been shown to increase intradisk pressure by approximately 40% when compared to standing (Howell, 2012). Slouching results in backward rotation of the sacrum, causing dorsal widening of the L5-S1 disk and strain on the iliolumbar ligaments. Both activities produce extended loading of the spine, decreasing disk hydration and separation between vertebra.
Lastly, certain body types are predisposed to injury such as flat back or scoliosis (congenital or functional), where the lumbar spine is in an unfavorable postural position. The lumbar lordosis curve is necessary to evenly distribute the center of body weight load. Studies have shown correlation between decreased lumbar lordosis and increased spinal nerve compression. Using thermographic imaging, reports show less lordosis resulting in higher temperatures in the lumbar region, as nerve muscle stimulation was transmitted to the skin (Gong, 2011). Also, sitting with a straightened back shows increased intradisk pressure by approximately 10% (Howell, 2012).Read More