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Spinal Tap Newsletter: Dr. Gleiber’s Tips for a Healthy Spine During Fall Sports

As the fall season begins, several sports seasons will be starting as well. Football gets a lot of attention this time of year on the professional and college levels, as well as on the high school level. In addition to football, several high school sports are beginning, including cross country, soccer and volleyball. Here are my tips for preventing back and head injury for these fall sports.

Don’t Skip the Warm-Up

It is good to stretch before any game or practice, but your warm-up should include more than just stretching. Try jogging to get the blood circulating. Don’t forget to stretch the upper and lower back, hamstrings, and quadriceps. You can also incorporate some moves from your sport, such as serving the volleyball or throwing the football.

Pay Attention to Your Technique

Improper form could strain the muscles supporting the back. When running, try to limit up-and-down motion, and focus on forward motion by leading with the chest. When tackling in football, use the “heads up” technique–never lower your head when making a tackle. A head-first tackle increases your risk of a concussion, in addition to resulting in a penalty. In volleyball, make sure you “call” the ball to avoid colliding with another player while going after the ball. When heading the ball, soccer players should use the forehead to make contact with the ball while restricting head and neck movement and using the legs to propel the body forward at the waist.

Strength Training is Key

Strong back and core muscles help to support the lower back during physical activity. Strengthening these muscles can also help to improve your posture, which can help prevent back pain in the future. Try exercises that target the back muscles, upper and lower abdominal muscles, and the obliques.

Don’t Overdo It

Practice is important, but over-training can lead to strained muscles and overuse injuries. It is important to take breaks to give your body a chance to recover between games and practice sessions.

Wear the Right Equipment

The impact of running can be jarring on the spine, leading to spinal fractures. Cross-country athletes should wear the proper shoes to help absorb the impact on the joints and spine. Proper footwear is also important in volleyball and soccer. Shoes should provide stability and support. Football players should make sure their helmets and protective gear fit properly and are well-maintained.

Injuries Should Be Taken Seriously

It is important for coaches and sports trainers to be aware of concussion symptoms. A collision or blow to the head could result in a concussion, so it is important that athletes be thoroughly evaluated and cleared by a doctor before being allowed back on the field. Symptoms of a concussion include headache, confusion, nausea or vomiting, loss of consciousness, memory loss, dizziness, clumsiness, lack of balance, double or blurry vision, sensitivity to light or noise, trouble concentrating, and changes in behavior, personality, or mood. It is also important to note that concussion symptoms do not always appear immediately.

Likewise, if an athlete is feeling any back pain while participating in a sport, he or she should be evaluated by a medical professional. A minor injury can be often treated with conservative methods, but if left untreated, it could progress to a more serious condition. Parents and coaches should encourage athletes to report any pain, no matter how minor they feel it may be.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid injuries, taking the proper precautions can greatly reduce the risk of injury. Keep these tips in mind, and I wish you all a safe and healthy fall sports season.

Download our Fall 2014 Newsletter: Dr. Gleiber’s Tips for a Healthy Spine During Fall Sports