No one likes back injuries, but they are a huge problem for athletes. The University of Maryland estimates that five to 10 percent of all athletic injuries are related to the lower back. Back injuries have hurt or ended the careers of athletic greats such as Larry Bird, Dwight Howard and Marian Hossa.
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A back injury can be difficult to heal, even with a full commitment to getting better, but many athletes don’t do enough to rehab. Far too often, you see people “tough it out,” which only makes things worse over the long run.
There are steps that athletes and their trainers often skip, thereby ensuring that back pain will continue to linger, along with a few things that could get you back in shape.
1. You’re not resting
You may have heard of severe back conditions such as herniated discs or pinched nerves. But most back injuries result from overusing muscles, which can lead to minor muscle strains or tears. Sports Journal observes that 97 percent of back pain in the general adult population and the majority of low back pain in college athletes is caused by “muscle strains, ligament sprains, and soft tissue contusions.”
This sort of injury requires rest to heal. This doesn’t mean you must be confined to the couch until your back gets better. In fact, you should exercise to keep your muscles strong. You can swim, walk, do yoga, and perform certain stretches to stay in shape while you rehabilitate.
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But under no condition should you rush the process and try to get back in the gym as soon as possible. Avoid the exercises you did before your injury, and don’t engage in activities that could affect your spine.
2. You’re not eating right
Your body needs fuel to heal, and the right kind of fuel can heal you faster. Though back pain is often due to a muscle strain, the pain is directly caused by inflammation. So if you can eat foods that limit inflammation, your back pain should lessen.
Foods rich in omega-3 and monosaturated fats such as fish or fish oil are highly recommended to reduce inflammation, as are brightly colored plants like carrots, berries, and grapes.
In addition to anti-inflammatory foods, protein helps speed the recovery process. Above all, make sure to eat enough. You may want to eat less since you are not exercising as much, but your body needs the additional fuel as energy to heal your back injury.
3. You’re not seeing a professional
As noted, the majority of back pain comes from simple strains that heal over time. But some injuries are more severe. You could have a lumbar lordosis, a pinched nerve, or another condition that requires professional help to get better.
Going to a doctor can be difficult, and you may be tempted to tough it out. But if the pain does not abate after a few days’ rest and some Tylenol, you should see a specialist. You can find a list of additional reasons to go to a doctor here.
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4. You’re seeing the wrong kind of professional
By “professional,” I mean a licensed physician or back specialist, not a massage therapist, chiropractor or acupuncture specialist. I mean an actual doctor who can look at your back and diagnose the reasons for your pain.
Massage therapy could be beneficial; however, the Sports Journal study of one review of massage therapy “found insufficient evidence to determine efficacy of massage for acute low back pain.” It also found no evidence to prove that acupuncture was any more effective than conventional or alternative treatments.
While practitioners of those kinds of therapies could heal your back, they will not be able to diagnose what is causing the pain. And a diagnosis is necessary to ensure that you do not re-injure the affected part.
5. You’re not committed
Injuries are demoralizing, and the process of healing and rehabilitation is painful. But the more you let it drag on, the longer the pain will persist.
Motivation is a key to ensuring that you fully commit to the rehab process, and a positive mindset can help speed your the recovery process. A medical professional can diagnose your injury and recommend methods and exercises for you to heal, but it is up to you to commit to them.
Think about how well you were doing before the injury, and keep working to get better. With the right mindset, rest, and nutrition, you should be back in the gym and ready to go as soon as possible.