By Amy McGorry
A quarterback in the NFL relies on his offensive line to have his back. So what does he do when their backs are aching?
Offensive linemen, as well as defensive linemen and defensive backs, are prone to spine injuries in the lower back (also known as the lumbar region). All that blocking, tackling and squatting puts significant pressure on the spine.
Anyone -- not just football players -- can get sacked by a back injury, however. By some estimates, at least 80% of the population suffers a back injury at some point in their life. Fortunately, there are ways to tackle this type of injury.
When Your Lower Back Is A Pain
Your back is like a team. Just as one player can’t be solely blamed for a loss, back pain usually can't be chalked up to a single cause. Several different factors -- including muscles, ligaments, and bones -- are often at work.
Lumbar discs -- the thin layers of cartilage separating the five vertebrae between your ribs and pelvis -- are often accused of being the culprit in low back pain. But one study showed that nearly two-thirds of people without back pain had disc abnormalities visible on an MRI, which suggests something besides discs may be involved in this nagging pain.
Recent reports point to a muscle group called the multifidus as a potential player in back pain. These small muscles cross along each of your vertebrae, and they have a tough job to do: They provide stability, enable the spine to extend and rotate, and protect against degeneration of the joints that connect the vertebrae.
Research has found that people with back pain tend to have a smaller multifidus at the site of their pain. Abnormal contractions of the multifidus are also associated with low back pain.
Why You're Sidelined
The disc and the multifidus work together. If the disc is inflamed, it prevents the multifidus from working efficiently, leading to pain. (It's sort of like a center and quarterback in football: If a center gives the QB a bad snap, it's hard for the quarterback to perform his best.)
How does the disc get inflamed? Poor posture, bending and twisting (especially in rotational sports like golf and tennis), and jarring hits can all cause disc problems.
Picture the disc as a jelly doughnut sitting between the vertebrae in the spine. If a tear occurs in the disc's outer ring, the gel-like center oozes out and irritates the surrounding tissues and nerves. As a result, you may experience pain and weakness down your legs.
The pain and inflammation can shut down the ability of the multifidus to contract. If this problem isn't addressed, the sluggishness of the multifidus will remain even after the pain has stopped. That really hampers your game and also increases the risk of reinjury.
How To Stay In The Game
Studies have shown that exercises that strengthen the multifidus are associated with reduced back pain and a lower recurrence rate. So get off that sideline and get back to working out! Here are a few exercises that can help prevent back pain. Do each four times a week, for 1 to 2 minutes each.
- Get on all fours and and engage your core to keep your back flat. (Tip: If your low back is arching, put a stability ball under your stomach until you get stronger)
- Lift your arms up in front of you one at a time, alternating sides
- Hold each arm raised for 5 seconds
- Build up to using light hand weights
Opposite Arm and Leg Lift
- Get on all fours, keeping your back flat
- Lift one leg and the opposite arm
- Hold for 5 seconds
Seated Arm Lifts
- Sit in a neutral posture, with your ribs "stacked" on top of your pelvis
- Hold a 2-pound weight and in each hand and lift your arms above your head
- Don't arch your back as you raise your hands
Always check with a physician prior to starting any exercise program. And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!