Football & Back Pain

Football & Back Pain

Does Playing High School Football Increase The Risk Of Lower Back Pain?

According to a 2013 study in the American Journal Of Sports Medicine, playing high school football increases the risk of degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease of the lower back can produce back pain symptoms as you age, decreasing the space for nerves and the spinal cord. Sometimes called osteoarthritis of the spine, degenerative disc disease can produce symptoms from mild to disabling.

football & risk of back painThe study followed 192 American football players through 4 years. 162 of the students played football for 2 full seasons and compared them with 32 who dropped out. They took x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI) before and after 2 years. They compared the results, along with noting back pain symptoms.

The results indicated a significant risk factor for degenerative disc disease in high school football players. The position most affected was lineman. From the radiographic studies, they noted an increase in a particular type of disc damage called a Schmorl’s node, which is a small break in the covering plate of the disc, allowing part of the disc to push through.

This is like walking on ice and having your heel crack through the ice and water being forced out. This is usually a painful condition for a few years until it heals, like the water that came out freezing over. There was also an association between playing high school football and disc herniation, which may cause lower back pain and pain radiating into the buttocks, thigh, leg and foot.

The Risk Of Back Pain Does Increase For High School Football Players

The study indicates that playing American style high school football through 2 years is indeed a risk factor associated with lower back pain from degenerative disc disease, schmorl’s nodes and disc herniation.

Many are familiar with the risks of concussion and brain damage over time rightfully getting the attention it deserves and formulating strategies to reduce risks for professional athletes. The early consequences also appear to affect the spine and significant consequences for the future regarding pain and disability.

  • A 2020 review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine was unable to determine which sports are at highest risk for back pain, however, common risk factors include a previous episode of back pain, periods of load increase, high training volume and years of exposure.
  • A 2023 study in Physical Therapy in Sport found the experience of low back pain for adolescent athletes is affected by a culture of tolerance for pain and injury in sports. The authors indicate, “Further steps should be taken to implement safeguarding measures in a way that adequately protects adolescent athletes who experience pain.”

Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.