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Sport: A pain in the back? By Matthew Wills

Back pain is not uncommon in athletes. In the global population, back pain has an annual incidence of 38.5% and is even worse for Africa at 57%. Studies have shown that in youths and young athletes this number is at least 10 to 15%. Even the fittest and most agile among us are vulnerable to back pain.

Little evidence has been found identifying certain athletes of certain sports to experience more back pain than others. However, back pain is most commonly found in those that perform repetitive bending motions.

The most common form of injury to an athlete’s back is that of a mechanical nature. This means a strain to the muscles or ligaments of the back due to overuse. Overuse injuries often present insidiously and come with little to no warning signs. Overuse injuries are caused by repeated micro-trauma rather than an individual injury or traumatic event. This means that an individual may experience minor back pain, which may not inhibit their movement or performance. However, exercise and training on such injuries leads to further deterioration of the state of the tissue as there is insufficient time for the tissue to heal between training sessions. Though rest does most commonly ease the symptoms of back pain, complete rest can have negative effects on the healing of the tissue. This is where physiotherapists come in.

Strategic rest is an area that physiotherapists are well versed in. Strategic rest is a period of rest from the aggravating movements and activities of your pain whilst maintaining a specialised exercise programme individually designed to treat your injury.

Physiotherapists are well experienced in not only identifying and treating a multitude of back injuries, but they are also experts in the field of biomechanics. A physiotherapist is able to observe your patterns of movement while performing your sport of choice and is able to identify patterns which may be either contributing to your pain, or potentially causing your pain. Once these movements have been identified, the physiotherapist will be able to provide you with exercises specifically designed to address these issues, be they weakness in certain muscles, irregular movement patterns or instability around a joint.

At Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy we will be able to identify the structures involved and develop a treatment plan specific to your needs. Our intention is not to just take your pain away, but to return you to your sport, ready to perform at your maximum. We will develop a treatment plan which will include exercises specifically targeted at correcting the identified patterns of movement, as well as to aid in the prevention of future back injuries in your sport of choice.

Please contact us on 031 765 8898 to book a session with one of our physiotherapists. Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy is based at Centenary Medical Centre and Hillcrest Medical Centre, 55 Old Main Road Gillitts. We are open from Monday to Saturday.


1) Morris LD, Daniels KJ, Ganguli B, Louw QA. An update on the prevalence of low back pain in Africa: a systematic review and meta-analyses. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2018;19(1):196. Published 2018 Jun 21. doi:10.1186/s12891-018-2075-x

2) Petering RC, Webb C. Treatment options for low back pain in athletes. Sports Health. 2011;3(6):550-555. doi:10.1177/1941738111416446

3) Standaert, C.J., Herring, S.A. & Pratt, T.W. Rehabilitation of the athlete with low back pain. Curr Sports Med Rep 3, 35–40 (2004).

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