Back Injuries in Young Athletes: A Growing Concern

Lower back injuries are the third most common sports injury sustained by athletes under the age of 18, according to new findings from Loyola University Medical Center. Not only can these injuries sideline athletes for weeks, they put them at risk of future back problems.

The Loyola University study was presented by sports physician Neeru Jayanthi, MD, at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando. Jayanthi and colleagues studied 1,200 young athletes who sustained 843 injuries.

Fifteen percent of those injuries were lower back injuries. The other two most common sports injuries were ankle (16%) and knee injuries (31.1%). Concussions and headaches were also common (13.4%) as well as shoulder (10.7%), and hip injuries (6.4%).

Most of those back injuries (61%) were considered less serious injuries to the lumbar facet and sacroiliac joints. However 39% were considered serious stress fractures or complications of stress fractures. Jayanthi touched on common risk factors for lower back injuries in young athletes including:

  • Hyperextension (arching the lower back, especially in racket sports)
  • Poor back extensor muscle and abdominal muscle strength
  • Intensive training
  • Frequent training hours (an average of 12.7 hours a week)
  • Specialization in one sport starting at a young age

Jayanthi recommended several preventive strategies including:

  • Resting for one day if an athlete is experiencing pain in a high-risk area like the back, shoulder, or elbow.
  • If symptoms linger for more than two weeks, seek evaluation from a sports physician.
  • In younger children who are still developing physically, do not spend more hours per week than your age playing a sport.
  • Avoid specialization in any sport before late adolescence.
  • Take a break from competitive sports for at least 1-3 months out of the year.
  • Take a rest day from sports training at least once per week.
  • For racket sports, athletes should have their form and stroke evaluated and minimize any back extension above 20 degrees as much as possible.

Many chiropractors are trained in sports medicine and can assist your child in diagnosing, recovering, and preventing back. In fact recent research suggests that chiropractic is the best conservative treatment for back pain in athletes. Chiropractic can also assist in the treatment of other common sports injuries like tennis elbow, tendonitis, and knee pain.


Lower back injuries more common in young athletes who focus on sports, Loyola study finds. Loyola Medicine. October 29, 2013.