Prevalence of back pain in a group of elite athletes exposed to repetitive overhead activity

Background: The prevalence of back pain in athletes has been investigated in several studies, but there are still under- or uninvestigated sports discipline like sports exposed to repetitive overhead activity. Elite athletes spend much time in training and competition and, because of the nature of their disciplines, subject their bodies to a great deal of mechanical strain, which puts a high level of stress on their musculoskeletal systems. From this it is hypothesized that elite athletes who engage in repetitive overhead motions experience a higher strain on their spine and thus possibly a higher prevalence of back pain compared with an active control group. Objectives: To examine the prevalence of back pain and the exact location of pain in a cohort of elite athletes with repetitive overhead activity and in a control group of physically active sport students. Additionally, to examine different characteristics of pain, and to evaluate the influence of confounders on back pain. Methods: A standardized and validated online back pain questionnaire was sent by the German Olympic Sports Confederation to German national and international elite athletes, and a control group of physically active but non-elite sports students. Results: The final sample comprised 181 elite athletes of the sports disciplines badminton, beach volleyball, handball, tennis and volleyball and 166 physically active controls. In elite athletes, lifetime prevalence of back pain was 85%, 12-month prevalence was 75%, 3-month prevalence was 58% and point prevalence was 38%; for the physically active control group, these prevalences were 81%, 70%, 59% and 43%, respectively. There was no significant group difference in prevalence over all time periods. The lower back was the main location of back pain in elite athletes across all disciplines and in controls; additionally a distinct problem of upper back pain was found among volleyball players. Conclusion: Despite the high mechanical load inherent in the sport disciplines included in this study, the elite athletes who engaged in repetitive overhead activities did not suffer more from back pain than the physically active controls. This suggests that other mechanisms may be influencing back pain prevalences in a positive way in these athletes. Furthermore, these disciplines may practice preventive factors for back pain that outweigh their detrimental factors. Therefore, we posit that extensive prevention work is already being implemented in these sports and that there are additional individual protection factors in play. More research is required to explore these suppositions, and should include investigations into which preventive training programs are being used. Nevertheless, in volleyball particularly, a focus on stabilization/preventive training should be applied to the upper back and neck.
© Copyright 2019 PLOSOne. All rights reserved.

Subjects: sports medicine locomotor system vertebral column pain sport badminton beach-volley handball tennis volleyball
Notations: sport games
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210429
Published in: PLOSOne
Published: 2019
Volume: 14
Issue: 1
Pages: e0210429
Document types: article
Language: English
Level: advanced