Olympic Athletes Also Have Bad Backs!

Did you know that in 2015 MRI scan testing  in the USA* showed that up to 85% of Olympic athletes were suffering from serious back problems, including disc herniations?

Considering their gruelling and lengthy training programmes and the continuous need to push themselves to the limit, it is hardly surprising that Olympians regularly sustain back injuries.

Maintaining core strength and taking regular exercise are recommended for good back health – a given in the case of professional athletes. But, what else might these elite athletes be doing to prevent back injuries and, if sustained, how do they get back to training and to peak performance as soon as possible?

The following tips will help to keep your back healthy when training/participating in your chosen sport or exercise programme.  If it is good enough for those Olympic athletes ……

  1. Good technique is key.  Along with natural talent and hard work, good technique is vital in sporting success, but more importantly it can also help to prevent injury.
  2. Incorporate a comprehensive stretching routine.  Once your muscles are warm they will benefit more from stretching.  Remember, cold chewing gum does not stretch, so try to stretch after you exercise rather than before.
  3. Include a cross section of exercises so as not to continually place stress on the same part of the body, and
  4. include exercises to strengthen the muscles that protect the back.
  5. Seek advice from a trainer or coach or from your osteopath or physio if you are in doubt.


However, If You Do Happen To Sustain A Back Injury:


Rest (Or Change Your Training/Exercise Routine)

We hear of athletes carrying on regardless, even when they have an injury.  However, when a back-related problem flares up we would recommend that you temporarily stop the activity which is causing pain. Unlike the Olympians in Rio, you are not ‘going for Gold’ and you can afford some time off training.  It may take a few days or a few weeks but it is important to allow any inflammation to reduce and the healing process to take place.

It is sometimes possible (and, indeed, in the case of elite athletes it is imperative) to maintain fitness levels by continuing to train.  However, this should be done in such a way so as not to aggravate the problem.  Advice should be sought to determine what exercises, if any, would be safe.

Visit your doctor/musculo-skeletal expert (eg osteopath) for advice and treatment.

Treatment may involve soft-tissue massage and articulation, as well as joint manipulation.  Once the practitioner has assessed the extent of the problem he or she may also recommend x-rays or MRI imaging, gentle exercises, applying ice or heat and/or medication.  Elite athletes would be lost without this type of expert intervention.

Take pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication to help in the healing process

However, be sure to seek medical advice from your pharmacist or gp before doing so.

Surgical intervention


Where surgical intervention is necessary (usually as a last resort) it does not mean that you cannot get back to training, participating or even competing in sport.  In 2013 tennis player, Andy Murray, struggled with back injuries and decided to have surgery.  He has since gone on to win a raft of trophies and championships including Wimbledon and the Gold in Rio this year.

Once You Are Ready To Resume Training

  • A good training plan with a gradual increase in activity is absolutely vital (refer back to items 1-5).
  • Prevention is better than cure so regular ‘maintenance’ sessions with your therapist may also be helpful – think of it as an MOT for your back!

Do not think all is lost if you have a serious back problem.  Seek help and, with the right treatment, you should be able to get back to your normal activities.

For more information on how to treat back problems or to make an appointment with one of our osteopaths or sports massage therapist contact our reception team on Tel: 020 8977 3295.

*Source: http://www.si.com/edge/2015/09/03/rothman-institute-pro-athletes-back-injuries-tony-romo-dwight-howard



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