Excerpt from Todayonline. 13th Nov 2007


It looks like a laid back sport, until the lower back gives out

Not long after an underwhelming showing by the British contingent at the
Wimbledon tennis championships in July, the British Journal of Sports
Medicine published the results of a study that suggested to beleaguered
English tennis fans that things are only going to get worse.

In the study, researchers from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital
scanned the spines of 33 elite adolescent tennis players. None of them had
reported back pain. But their backs, it turned out, were a mess – they had
backs 60 years older than they were.

But as many of us know from debilitating first-hand experience, back
problems don’t afflict just teenage tennis players. According to various
studies, at least a third of all competitive football players will hurt
their lower backs during play, as will a third of gymnasts and 25 per cent
of serious rowers. About 40 per cent of divers will develop a spinal
stress fracture, and many cyclists will experience constant, grinding back
pain while riding. The harshest sport, however, seems to be golf.

Ninety per cent of injuries to professional golfers involve the lower back
and the neck, and almost 80 per cent of professionals will miss at least
one tournament because of back pain.

If you’re a runner, do a backbend of thanksgiving: Runners statistically
have a lower risk than most athletes of developing back problems. But for
everyone else, the news is … painful.

Many lower back problems are caused by the very athleticism that modern
sports demand. Consider the forces applied to the lower back during
certain activities: The torque created by a proper golf swing can produce
almost 770kg of pressure on the lower spine. Rowers can put about 590kg of
pressure on their backs at the catch of their stroke. And the “peak
compressive load” created by a football lineman slamming into his opponent
can be close to 900kg.

Having a strong back, you will be happy to hear, means not doing sit-ups.
Ever.  “Sit-ups are not healthy for the back,” said Mr Michael Higgins,
the director of athletic-training education at Towson University in
Maryland and the author of several academic articles about back injuries
in athletes.”They can severely compress the lumbar spine.”

Abdominal crunches, on the other hand, in which you raise your head and
trunk slightly from the ground without pulling yourself upright, improve
back health significantly. “Crunches build core endurance and strength
without stressing the spine,” he added.

If your back aches for more than a few weeks, or if the pain is acute or
radiating, visit a doctor. “Most back injuries will clear up on their own
within six to eight weeks, if you rest adequately,” Mr Vijay Vad, a sports
medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City
said. “Surgery is very rarely necessary, maybe in 3 to 5 per cent of
cases.” – nyT

Is SAF ever going to listen to the experts? Although it’s my pet event, but I wouldn’t mind doing one less.