How to Treat Athletes with Low Back Pain - IMPACT Physical Therapy

How to Treat Athletes with Low Back Pain


Low Back Pain in Athletes

Low back pain is one of the most common types of pain athlete’s experience. This source of pain can be a huge burden, causing missed playing time and sports-related injuries. Athletes that are often the most affected by low back pain include weightlifters, gymnasts, golfers, rowers, divers and football players. There are several different causes of low back pain that can leave an impact on these athletes.

Causes of Low Back Pain in Athletes

One of the most common causes of low back pain is muscle strain. A violent or jerking motion, or an over-extension of the back muscles usually causes back muscle strains. This causes one or more back muscles, tendons or ligaments to stretch or tear. If this is not treated or fully rehabilitated, it can eventually lead to chronic lower back pain. Another common cause of low back pain is a herniated disc. A herniated disc puts pressure on the disc’s outer fiber causing it to rip and the nucleus to rupture, resulting in symptoms of numbness and changes in reflexes.

Past injuries that have not healed, incorrect posture and poor physical conditioning can also cause mechanical lower back pain. This type of injury is a frequent condition athlete’s experience, causing them to have general back pain, stiffness and a restricted range of motion. Because of the pain, athletes will unconsciously not engage their back muscles to perform activities or certain exercises, making the condition even worse without them knowing it.

Treatment of Low Back Pain in Athletes

There are numerous treatments for athletes with low back pain, many of them being non-invasive. Ranging from therapists to medications’, athletes can feel relief and go back to their daily and physical activities with the right treatment. Below are the most beneficial treatments for athletes with low back pain.

Heat or Ice

Applying a cold ice pack or heating pad to the lower back can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and increase mobility in athletes. Ice packs should be applied to the lower back several times a day for at least 20 minutes to see beneficial results. After a few days of cold treatment, athletes should switch to heat treatment in the form of a heating pad or hot bath. The heat will loosen the tight muscles that are causing them pain.


Physical activity is an effective way for athletes to recover faster from their lower backaches and pains. Performing core exercises can help strengthen the muscles in the abdomen and back that support the spine. The stronger those muscles become, the less likely athletes will experience pain in their lower back.

Spinal Manipulation

Spinal mobilization is one of the most effective ways to treat lower back pain. Realigning the spine can relieve lower back pain by reducing the pressure placed on the spine, increasing flexibility, improving blood flow and reducing muscle tension. Some treatments can be effective as few at 3-4 treats while other spinal impingements might require further spine rehab.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays an important role in treating and preventing lower back pain. Physical therapists will design a program based on an athlete’s condition that combines strengthening, stretching and low-impact exercises.  These exercises will help strengthen the muscles of the back that support the spine, which in turn will decrease lower back pain, increase functionality and prevent further back pain in the future.

Anti-Inflammatory or Prescription Medication

Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can be used as a type of pain reliever for athletes experiencing lower back pain. This type of medication helps effectively reduce pain and inflammation in the lower back. However, if an athlete’s lower back pain becomes chronic, doctors may also prescribe stronger prescription medication. The type of medication prescribed usually depends on the patient’s particular issue in the lower back and overall health.

Find a Physical Therapist in Chicago

If you’re an athlete experiencing lower back pain, get the relief you need at IMPACT Physical Therapy. With over 20 years of experience, our focus is to get to know you as a person to identify your specific needs and goals. With hands-on treatment, we’ll work with you to reduce your lower back pain and get you back in the game. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced physical therapists.

Further Reading

Understand the Causes of Low Back Pain

The Most Common Mistakes that Cause Back Injuries