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Back and Neck Injuries in Basketball

It is common for basketball players to sustain injuries in their extremities, including injuries to the knees, ankles, shoulders, and wrists, but the spine and its supporting muscles take on a lot of stress, too. Let’s take a look at some of the most common back and neck injuries among basketball players.

Back and Neck Strains

Back and neck strains occur when the muscles supporting the spine are stretched too far. Back and/or neck muscles may be strained while jumping or twisting, so this injury is very common among basketball players. Muscle strains can result in pain, inflammation, and muscle weakness. The Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza was recently sidelined with a neck strain, but was able to return within a few days of receiving treatment.

Treatment: Strains usually do not require surgery. Often, rest and ice are all that is needed to help heal a strain. Anti-inflammatory medications can help with any swelling. Heat may help to loosen tight muscles as well.

Back and Neck Spasms

Back and neck spasms can also happen if the muscle becomes inflamed from overuse or excess force, such as when jumping or twisting, and can also be a symptom of a back or neck strain. Spasms are an involuntary muscle contractions that can be quite painful. Several NBA players have recently been sidelined with back spasms, including Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz, Caron Butler of the Detroit Pistons, and J.J. Redick of the Los Angeles Clippers. Although Redick has missed 3 games due to back spasms, he did participate in Saturday’s 3-point shooting contest for All-Star Weekend, but he was out after the first round.

Treatment: Rest, ice, and compression is often recommended for back spasms. Anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended for pain, and muscle relaxants can help to relax the spasms. In some cases, injection therapy may be recommended.

Stress Fractures in the Spine

Stress fractures in the spine, a condition known as spondylolysis, often occur in the lower back. If the fractured vertebra shifts out of place, the condition is called spondylolisthesis. Stress fractures often occur as the result of overuse, which is common in high-intensity sports like basketball. The muscles can become fatigued, and the excess stress can transfer to the bones, creating tiny cracks.

Treatment: Unless the fracture is severe and causes instability, nonsurgical treatment is generally used first. Rest is important with stress fractures so that the bone can heal. In some cases, a back brace may be recommended to keep the back in the correct position while it heals. Physical therapy can help to strengthen the surrounding muscles to prevent recurring injuries. If nonsurgical treatment does not help, a spinal fusion may be performed to stabilize the spine.

Herniated Disc

Herniated discs can result from trauma and repetitive stress on the discs in the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae in the spine, but over time, the discs’ tough exterior can wear down and the soft, jelly-like center can push through, irritating nearby nerves.

Treatment: In most cases, surgery will not be needed. Treatment generally includes anti-inflammatory medications, hot and cold therapy, and muscle relaxers to help with spasms. Cortisone injections can also help with inflammation. If surgery is needed, the protruding portion of the disc may be removed, or in some cases, the entire disc may be removed and the vertebrae will be fused together.

Now that the All-Star Weekend is over, we have the rest of the season to look forward to, as well as the upcoming March Madness. Stay tuned for more information about basketball injuries!