Baseball may be the national pastime, but football is America’s game. So much so that you don’t have to be a pro to get in on the action. Football is the number one high school sport in America, with more than one million players nationwide. At least one million more kids between the ages six and 12 play tackle football. And thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of adults also participate in the sport, from joining amateur leagues to playing pick-up games in parks and backyards across the country. But as much as we love the sport in America, there is one major drawback to life on the gridiron — injuries.
Week after week we watch as NFL players are sidelined by injuries. While they may not be as athletic as their pro counterparts, youth, college and adult amateur players can suffer these same injuries as well. Knee, leg, shoulder and back injuries rank among some of the most common in the sport. In fact, an estimated 25 percent of college players will suffer a back injury during their football careers.
Football players who experience back pain are typically dealing with simple muscle strains, sprains or stress fractures that will heal over time. Herniated vertebral discs in the back or neck, however, occur quite frequently and can be much more serious than a soft-tissue injury like a sprain or strain.
A herniated disc is a disc in the spine that has slipped out of place. The dislocated disc can put pressure on the nerves in the spine, causing pain and numbness to travel down the back and through the arms or legs, depending on which disc has suffered damage. A disc that is bulging or ruptured may also put pressure on and irritate a nerve.
In football, herniated discs are often the result of repeated impacts with the ground, recurring strains, heavy hits or sudden twisting movements. Quarterbacks, linemen and running backs are all prone to this injury, especially if they have a muscle imbalance, have not properly developed their core strength, already have tight hip flexors or hamstrings or play with poor technique. One atypical or awkward move can result in a muscle strain in the back — or worse, a herniated disc.
Treating herniated discs
Anti-inflammatory treatments may help relieve the pain associated with a herniated disc, but some injuries are serious enough that they require spinal surgery. Two surgical procedures are most often performed in treating herniated discs: lumbar discectomy and lumbar spinal fusion.
In a lumbar discectomy, the herniated portion of an intervertebral disc is removed, alleviating pressure on the spinal cord or radiating nerves. Spinal fusion combines and immobilizes two or more vertebrae. Because the surgeon fuses the vertebrae themselves in this procedure, the bones of the spine are no longer subject to slipping and other forms of abnormal motion. That means they are also no longer likely to place pressure either on the spinal cord or the radiating nerves in your back.
Preventing a back injury
The best way to prevent a back injury in football — or any other sport — is to maintain both a pre-workout warm-up and post-workout stretching and cool-down routine. Your warm-up should target the muscles you use to run, catch, throw, kick and tackle, preparing them for the stresses they will encounter during the game. A proper warm-up gradually increases circulation with light movements (such as walking) and stretches the hamstrings, quadriceps and both the upper and lower back.
Adult and youth football players should always work with a professional coach, instructor or trainer who can teach proper warm-up and cool-down routines as well as correct form for the sport. Look for a coach or trainer who is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
If you or your child has suffered an injury on the football field, contact Dr. Kushwaha today.