Lower back pain in cricket… what should I look out for?
Lower back pain is a common problem in cricketers due to the demands on the spine from bowling, batting and fielding. Pain caused by spinal structures may be experienced as sharp or dull pain in the back, buttock or legs. Pain intensity may be mild, moderate or severe. When the spinal cord or spinal nerves are implicated nerve pain may also be experienced. Injury can be caused by acute trauma or by repetitive stress over time.
There are many different pain producing structures in the spine including bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, discs and neural tissue. This article will take a closer look at vertebral stress injuries to help you understand what they are, how this injury would implicate your cricket and how to address risk factors to prevent such an injury.
What is a vertebral stress injury? And what does it mean for me and my cricket?
Vertebral stress injuries are caused by repetitive loading to the boney (vertebral) structures in the spine they result from a failing of the vertebral arch. If stress injuries develop on both sides of the vertebra then this can cause an unstable segment in the spine.
The spinal column (made up of these vertebrae) is protecting the spinal cord which is a vital component of the central nervous system (allows your brain to talk to your muscles and organs). Hence such an injury creating instability around the spinal cord needs to be managed appropriately to prevent more serious problems.
At the end of the day stress injuries result in intensive rehabilitation and time away from sport which can be 2-12 months depending on the severity of injury. Therefore prevention is a much better option than missing out on time on the field.
Is your bowling style risky business?
Fast bowlers are at greater risk of developing spinal stress injuries due to the hyper-extension, rotation and side bending movements during bowling.
Research shows that the different bowling styles do not affect ball speed however they do impact the spine differently. The side on, front on and semi open actions are lower risk due to less rotation forces placed on the spine. The mixed action; a combination of the front and side on action (found to be the most common in adult bowlers in Australia) is the highest risk for stress injuries to the spine.
How can I prevent a vertebral stress injury?
- Practice a lower risk bowling technique (side on, front on, semi open).
- Optimise your posture, core and pelvic control, flexibility (especially hamstrings) and joint mobility.
- Avoid over training.
- Consider having a screening to identify if you have any key risk factors.
What do you mean by “core”?
The core muscles describe the deep muscles around the trunk, pelvis and hips that play an important role in controlling and supporting the spine.
Given the relative instability of the lumbar spine, training to optimise the control of these muscles can assist performance by protection, precision and control of such movements.
A nice analogy – You can’t shoot a cannon ball from a rocky boat….for bowlers this means you can’t have an explosive bowl if you’re not stable around your trunk and pelvis. You can think of your core as your “power house” stability here allows you to create more power throughout your body.
Will doing crunches and the plank improve my performance?
No, probably not. The key with core training is training you body for the movements specific to your sport and daily life therefore crunches might help you get out of bed in the morning and the plank will help you if you’re making a human pyramid but won’t necessarily help you with your core control relative to sport.
A nice way to think about developing control in an area of weakness is think isolate, activate and integrate. You need to learn how to isolate the muscle, then activate it consistently in different positions, then integrate this in to your sport with functional exercises.
Try some Pilates – not just for the ladies!
Many athletes are utilising the principles of pilates to enhance their performance. Pilates is a system of exercise designed to improve physical control, strength, flexibility and posture through functional movement patterns. Pilates is therefore well suited to help optimise athletes performance, address asymmetries in the body and reduce identified risk factors.
Ref. Johnson,M.,Ferreira,M.,Hush,J. (2012) Lumbar vertebral stress injuries in fast bowlers: A review of prevalence and risk factors. Physical Therapy in Sport.
Johanna is a female physiotherapist working at Stay Tuned Sports Medicine – Elwood
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