Spine problems in young athletes.

Daniel J. Sucato, Lyle J. Micheli, A. Reed Estes, Vernon T. Tolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


As the number of young people involved in sports activities increases, acute and chronic back pain has become more common. With a careful medical history and physical examination, along with the judicious use of imaging modalities, the causes of back pain can be correctly diagnosed and treated so that young athletes can quickly return to sports participation. Although most back pain in these young patients is muscular in origin, findings that should trigger increased concern include night pain, marked hamstring tightness, pain with lumbar spine hyperextension, or any neurologic finding. When recently developed vague back pain is present, a delay in radiographic imaging is warranted. With new back pain after trauma, AP and lateral radiographs of the symptomatic spinal area are indicated. CT, bone scans, and MRI should be reserved for special circumstances. Spondylolysis is the most common bony cause of back pain in young athletes. Spondylolysis can be treated with activity limitation, a specific exercise program, a thoracolumbar orthosis, and/or surgery. Treatment should be based on the amount of pain as well as the desire of the young athlete to continue in the sports activity that caused the pain. Other significant causes of back pain that require more extensive treatment in these young athletes include spondylolisthesis, lumbar disk disorders, and sacral stress fractures. It is anticipated that nearly all young athletes can return to sports activity after successful treatment. Even if surgical treatment is needed, return to all sports is expected, with the occasional exception of collision sports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-511
Number of pages13
JournalInstructional course lectures
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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