Mark McGwire, First Base for the St. Louis Cardinals
Back injuries are diagnosed using clinical exam. They are most often
detected when athletes complain of soreness, pain, and tightness in the back.
Typical strains include mild pain and almost constant discomfort. Tests such as
X-rays may be used to distinguish muscular strains from bone problems, and an
MRI or CAT scan may confirm the existence and severity of the injury.
Treatment for the injury is simple. As a strain is a mild muscular injury,
it is treated with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Most importantly,
the athlete must try to limit all use and movement of the back, because it is
far more difficult to immobilize than an extremity. Sometimes athletes try to
play through back pain; in almost all cases, the pain does not go away and
The recovery period may vary from 1-2 days to 2-3 weeks. In McGwire's case,
the injury occurred very early in the season, and he chose to be very cautious
and rest his back for a longer period of time. Even though he is taking this
time off, it is likely that he will require more days off during the season
than he has in the past; he may require a few days off at some point just to
rest his back. Like most back injuries, this is a nagging problem, and as the
season winds down, he may play through some minor pain.
McGwire will be affected in two ways. First, due to soreness and the need
for rest, he will probably miss more games than he has over his last two
seasons. Second, he may lose a tiny amount of strength and mobility in his back
that would slightly lessen his power. Due to the nature of strained backs,
there is a good possibility that he will reinjure his back if he does not
correct the motion that caused the injury. Because that motion involved
swinging a bat, even if he rests his back all of next off-season, there is
still a chance he will suffer from soreness when he returns to play.