Back pain can be debilitating, as the pain may come on suddenly or be accompanied by muscle spasms or inflammation.

Back pain is one of the most common complaints of recreational, competitive and elite athletes. Some sports such as golf, tennis, football, hockey and gymnastics put athletes at increased risk for developing lower back injuries. Sports that require repetitive twisting and compressive loading of the spine may lead to recurrent back injuries. 

Initial evaluation begins with a thorough history and physical examination. This requires physician understanding of the functional anatomy and biomechanics of the spine and will include questions regarding your activities and when the pain exists and subsides. Additional diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRI, CT scan or bone scan may be required to identify or exclude more serious conditions than a ligament sprain or muscle strain.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Nonsurgical treatments

Nonsurgical treatments

Most back pain from sports can be treated conservatively with rest and anti-inflammatory medicines. Future issues can potentially be avoided with proper form and exercises to build up strength and tone.

Osteopathic Manipulation

Osteopathic manipulative therapy, or hands-on care, can be used to improve range of motion, decrease pain and expedite the return to sports activity for many musculoskeletal issues and repetitive stress injuries to the back. 

To identify specific areas of dysfunction and motion restriction, osteopathic physicians perform a thorough examination, including a postural exam and palpatory and functional assessments. Osteopathic manipulation utilizes many different stretching, resistance or pressure techniques, including soft tissue, muscle energy, myofascial and direct mobilization.

An individual treatment plan may also include physical therapy and a back rehabilitation program to prevent recurrent injuries. 

Injection Therapy

Your physician may use musculoskeletal ultrasound to create images of your hip joint and surrounding structures. With respect to the back, musculoskeletal ultrasound guided injections can be used to treat problems relating to the sacroiliac joints.

The sports medicine physicians at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center use musculoskeletal ultrasound for accuracy in treating you with steroid injections in-office. This technique uses sound waves to create images of the internal structure of the injured area. The image also shows the steroid needle, helping the physician guide it to the affected area. This is an in-office procedure and it does not expose you to any radiation.

Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a treatment that uses your own blood to stimulate healing in shoulder tendon and ligament injuries. Your blood is drawn, and the part that contains growth factors is separated from the rest of the blood. This platelet-rich part of your blood is then injected into the injury site.

PRP treatment promotes long-term healing and is often prescribed after physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and/or steroid injections have produced little or no improvement. PRP can be considered after three to six months of other therapies have failed.

PRP treatment has a high success rate, especially for medial (golf) and lateral (tennis) tendinitis. The greatest results come in three to four months. Talk to your primary provider to see if you’re a candidate for this therapy.

Intramuscular Manual Therapy

Dry needling is an alternative pain relief technique that physical therapists may administer for muscle pain. It involves the insertion of a small, solid filament into a stressed muscle’s site of spasm and pain, also known as a trigger point. By doing so, the muscle relaxes and blood flow increases into the area, alleviating pain and improving motion.

Trigger points are often the result of an injury to a different part of the body, because other muscles overcompensate for imbalances and weakness in the injured area. Because of this overcompensation, muscle spasm occurs, causing discomfort and pain in the muscle.

Once dry needling resets the tone of muscle, your physical therapist works on correcting strength and mobility deficits in the muscle, which allows healing and prevents injury.
  • Results can be immediate or take up to 72 hours
  • One to five treatments is the expected course
  • Rehab exercises are part of the treatment

Lifestyle Modification

The conservative, albeit sometimes short-term, solution to many back injuries is to adjust your exercise routine or to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Depending upon the type of back injury you’ve sustained, we may suggest a number of lifestyle changes to help reduce your pain, such as biomechanical adjustments to your technique, form or overall posture, an exercise or physical therapy program to strengthen the musculature that supports your spine or referral to our sport psychologist to help find ways to reduce stress that may be contributing to your back muscle pain.

You may have to take a break from your sport to allow the injury to heal and prevent recurrence.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical Treatments

For more complex conditions relative to changes in the structure of the spine or damage to the vertebrae and surrounding tissue, we may refer you to our Comprehensive Spine Center.

Why Ohio State?

Why choose The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for treatment of sports-related back injuries?

Expert Care: We offer fellowship-level physician care and physical therapy, which means our providers have completed up to two years of intense, specialized experiential training in the field.

Experience: As the sideline care providers for more than 5,000 central Ohio competitors and performers, including Ohio State’s athletes and varsity teams, we have the experience to help maintain better health and athletic performance.

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