The 5 Most Common Spine Injuries in Athletes & How to Treat Them

Athletes must always be aware of their bodies, and this is especially true when it comes to spine injuries. Spine injuries can be extremely debilitating and restrict athletes’ ability to perform. Playing sports puts athletes at risk of suffering from different types of injuries. In the United States, about 8.7% of all new spinal cord injury cases are sports-related incidents.

This blog will uncover the five most common spine injuries among athletes as well as the necessary treatments required to resolve them. Keep reading to learn more.

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What are the types of spinal injuries?

Spinal injuries involve injuries to the spinal cord, a collection of nerves that runs down the middle of the back and is responsible for moving signals from the brain to the body and vice versa. Depending on the severity, spinal injuries can lead to paralysis and other debilitating effects.

It’s important to understand the different types of spinal injuries and their effects to ensure you receive the best possible care if you’ve been involved in an accident. Here are the common types of spinal cord injury: 

  • Fracture or dislocation

The most common type of spinal injury is a fracture or dislocation. These injuries are caused by a sudden, traumatic force on the area, such as a fall or a car crash. These injuries cause a displacement of the spine at a certain point, with the range of motion being limited at this point.

  • Compression injuries

This type of injury occurs when the vertebrae and discs between them are crushed, often by direct pressure. This can be caused by a heavy object directly impacting the spine and is common in car crash victims.

  • Flexion injuries

This is caused when the spine is bent too far and the vertebrae fracture. This phenotype of injury is most common in athletes who perform activities that involve high-impact bending, such as football.

  • Traction injuries

It occurs when the spine is stretched too far and can be caused by a lack of abdominal muscle support in activities such as swimming or diving.

Whatever the cause, spinal injuries can have a life-altering impact on someone’s life. It’s important to seek the help of a spine specialist immediately if you or a loved one have been involved in an accident that may have caused spinal damage. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to minimizing the effects of a spinal injury and starting you or your loved one on the road to recovery.

What are the most common spine injuries in athletes?

The spine is a major part of the body, and spine injuries can affect even the most dedicated athletes. While many sports require some kind of physical activity, certain activities can put an athlete at greater risk of developing a spine injury. From high-impact sports to repetitive movements, spine injuries can cause significant pain and put an athlete’s career on hold. 

Common spine injuries in athletes include:

  • Lumbar disc herniation

Lumbar disc herniation is one of the most common spine injuries seen in athletes. The lumbar spine is the lower part of the spine and is responsible for controlling and protecting the lower half of the body. When lifting heavy weights or putting too much strain on the lower back, a herniated disc can occur. 

Disc herniation occur when the disc that sits between two vertebrae is damaged and a section of the disc protrudes out of the vertebrae and into the spinal canal. This can cause intense lower back pain and may even cause weakness in the legs.

  • Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is another common spine injury seen in athletes. This involves compression or damage to one of the nerve roots that exit the spinal cord in the neck region. This can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the neck and shoulder area and can be caused by repetitive movements such as swimming or tennis.

  • Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition caused by a worn-out spinal bone that causes it to slip out of place and transfer stress onto the adjacent vertebrae. This can cause localized pain in the area as well as radiating pain in the back, buttocks, and legs.

  • Thoracolumbar fractures

Thoracolumbar fractures refer to a break in the spine located in the mid-to-lower back section. This can be caused by a direct hit to the spine, such as in contact sports, or even from a fall. Once the spine has suffered a fracture, it must be immobilized to allow it to heal properly.

How can spinal injuries be treated?

There are various treatments available designed to reduce or alleviate pain and improve function, allowing individuals to lead a more comfortable and healthy life.

✓ Physical therapy 

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can be an invaluable part of spinal injury care. This type of therapy helps to build strength in the injured area, as well as increase flexibility and range of motion. Specific exercises are prescribed for the patient, which can help improve overall balance and mobility. Additionally, physical therapy can help patients learn to manage their pain and properly support their injured spine.


may be needed to limit damage to the spinal column and tissues. For this, medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids, may be utilized to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Other penetrating treatments, such as steroid injections, nerve blocks, or radiofrequency ablation, may be employed to provide more direct and focused relief.


can also be an effective treatment option for debilitating spinal injuries. Depending on the damage inflicted, surgical options can include fusions, disc replacement, decompression of spinal nerves, or the implantation of artificial discs. At the time of treatment, the patient’s surgeon will discuss all available options and help determine which route is best for the individual.

Post-surgical care 

for spinal injury treatment focuses on controlling pain, maintaining optimal joint and muscle function, and preventing further injury. Occupational or physical therapists will work with their patients to design a customized rehabilitation plan that may include exercises, lifestyle recommendations, or additional therapies and treatments.

Spinal injuries can be challenging to treat, but with the right support and treatments, many patients can find relief. As treatments are often tailored to the patient and their individual needs, success rates for spinal injury treatment can vary from case to case. To maximize the potential for recovery, it is important to seek treatment from an experienced medical team and follow the prescribed instructions closely.

How do I prevent getting spine injuries?

We often take our spine for granted, but if injured, we can be subjected to debilitating pain that can take years for the body to recover from. That’s why it’s important to understand how to prevent spine injuries.

Here are five tips that will help you maintain good spine health and protect yourself from injury.

  1. Exercise regularly: 

Regular exercise helps to keep your spinal muscles strong and healthy, allowing them to better support your body’s weight and movements. If you have an existing spine condition, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.

  1. Move wisely

Be mindful of your posture and how you move while carrying out activities. When sitting, keep your head and neck straight. During physical activities, use proper technique to avoid jarring or twisting your spine.

  1. Stay hydrated
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You need proper hydration throughout your day. When your body is dehydrated, it performs less efficiently, and your spine may become more prone to pain and injury.

  1. Avoid sitting for long hours

Sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of developing spinal issues. Try to take breaks throughout your day, and make sure to get up and move around every hour or two.

  1. Strengthen your core

Strengthening your core muscles helps to support the entire spine, minimizing the risk of injury. Incorporating a core-strengthening routine into your fitness regimen can go a long way towards protecting your spine.

By following these simple tips, you can help prevent spine injuries and maintain a healthy back and neck for many years to come.

Get help from the best spine specialist in Fort Lauderdale

Are you struggling with a spine injury? We urge you to consider the services of renowned spine surgeon in Delray Beach, Matthew Hepler. 

An expert in the field with decades of experience, he is recognized as one of the best spine surgeons in South Florida. With his help, you can start back on your journey to a speedy recovery.

Dr. Hepler takes a patient-centric approach to the spine trauma process, utilizing all the latest technology and medical findings. He will help you map out the optimal treatment plan to address your specific spine injury and situation. 

Contact us for a consultation right away so we can begin putting together the treatment plan that’s right for you. When you select Dr. Hepler for your spinal injury, you’ll have the expertise and care of the world’s top spine clinicians close at hand. Your recovery is just a phone call away!


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.