Back to Action: How to Return to Your Sport After a Back Injury

returning to sport after back injury
By Fara Rosenzweig

Whether you have chronic low-back pain, back injury or just want to prevent it, stretching and strengthening the injured area is one solution to get back into action.

Back pain and injury is frustrating. One wrong move and you can tweak your back or severely re-injure it. However, you can prepare your body for movement to activate your muscles, which can protect the spine and reduce the chances or re-injury.

Before you return to sports, make sure you have the following:

  • No swelling or pain.
  • Have full range of motion (compare the injured area with the uninjured area to check your range of motion).
  • Have full or close-to-full strength (about 90 to 95 percent). Again compare both sides and have you’re your doctor look at your strength.
  • Can perform weight-bearing exercises on injured area without pain.
  • Can perform throwing movements without pain.

More Ways to Prevent Injury and Strengthen Your Back to Return to Sports

Stretch Daily

When you wake up in the morning you may experience back stiffness. Before you start your day take five to wake up your postural muscles. This will get your joints loosened and ready for the day. It will also prepare them for any workout or strength program your doctor has prescribed to get you back to action.

The yoga-inspired move Half Moon decompresses the spine and lifts the ribs. It slowly loosens up the back in a gentle manner.

  • Stand tall and extend your arms up overhead.
  • Take your right hand and gently grab your left wrist.
  • Begin to lean toward the right, gently pulling your left arm.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

The Prone Spine Stretch loosens up the spine while strengthening it.

  • Lay face down with arms extended out in a “T”.
  • Lift the right leg and bring it up and over your left, tapping your toe just on the outside of the left leg.
  • Return the right leg and do the same with the left.
  • Continue to slowly alternate legs.

Move Mid-Day

Sitting at a desk, in a car or on the couch can do more harm than good. Make sure you get up about every hour and stretch for a few minutes, go for a walk or just move to prevent stiffness and maintain mobility.

Try a Seated Back Arch to open up your back and shoulder from rounding.

  • Sit tall.
  • Raise your hands up and over your head.
  • Slowly lean backward, arching your back over your chair’s backrest.
  • Hold for a few breaths.

Work Your Core

The core is more than just six-pack abs. The core is the trunk to your body that holds everything together. Studies show athletes with a stronger core are less likely to re-injure their back.

Go ahead and plank daily (about 60 to 90 seconds). The plank will train the transverse abdominals, hip flexors and spinal erectors—all muscles needed to support a strong spine. You can plank in the morning and evening time, or throughout the day to strengthen your core.

A Floor bridge is more than a glute and hamstring exercise. It works your glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors and transverse abdominals. It activates the front and rear of your torso.

  • Lay on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Bring your arms out, palms up, in a “T” position.
  • Keep the natural curve in your back.
  • Simply lift your pelvis up until it’s aligned you with quads.
  • Slowly lower down to the floor and repeat for 30 seconds.

Use Support

Back braces help relieve pain and pressure on the lower back and give lumbosacral support. They are good to compress, ease spasms and stabilize the spine.

Mimic Movement

Sport-specific exercises that mimic movement prepares the body for competition. Work with a coach to slowly increase such activity into your exercise program to evaluate form and technique. This will prevent re-injury and help boost your mechanics.