Spine and Sports Program | Frequently Asked Questions

How common are back pain and back injuries in athletes?

By the time an athlete reach 16 years old, she experiences back pain at the same yearly prevalence rate as adults (16-18 percent).

What spine conditions commonly affect athletes?

Most spine injuries in athletes occur as a result of overuse. The most common injuries are spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the lower back, and spondylolisthesis, a slipped vertebrae.

Regions of the spine

About six percent of athletes are diagnosed with spondylolysis. Athletes who participate in gymnastics, diving, soccer and baseball face a slightly higher risk of stress fracture.  

Boston Children’s Spine and Sports team also cares for athletes with spinal curvatures such as scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis and those with Scheuermann's disease and atypical Scheuermann's disease ­— growth plate deformities that cause abnormal curvatures of the spine. These can present as a humped upper back (kyphosis) or a flat back in the lower spine.

How are athletes with back pain evaluated

Specialists in Boston Children’s Spine and Sports Program complete a neurological evaluation, assessing the athlete’s muscular and sensory functioning and checking for other conditions that can cause spinal pain. They also review an athlete’s biomechanics to determine if certain repetitive motions caused the injury.

The doctor also may order diagnostic tests such an X-ray or MRI to diagnose the spine injury.

How are athletes with spine conditions treated?

Treatment for an athlete with a spine injury nearly always includes physical therapy and often bracing. If an athlete doesn’t respond to conservative management, doctors in the spine and sports program coordinate with orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons for further care.

When should I make an appointment for back pain?

An athlete with short-term pain like a muscle pull can rest for a few days and take over-the-counter pain medication. If the pain continues longer than one or two weeks, please call to make an appointment with a sports medicine provider.