Does Playing Basketball Make Back Pains Worse?


Approximately 80 percent of Americans will be afflicted by back pain at some point in their lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Doctors recommend low impact sports and exercises to maintain an active lifestyle without aggravating back pain. High impact sports such as basketball increase the chance of prolonging minor back pain or worsening a back condition. Those who want to continue playing basketball should focus on strengthening certain muscles to prevent pain and injury, according to Eric T. Shapiro, M.D.

Back Structure and Pain

The spine is composed of bones called vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs that cushion the joints. The spinal cord sits in the center of the spinal column with nerve roots extending out to enervate functions such as arm movement, leg movement and bladder control. Along the spine and throughout the back are large muscles that are “movers,” helping major movements such as bending. Smaller muscles called stabilizers support the spine and help you maintain posture. Pain can result from one of many conditions including but not limited to muscle strain, a herniated disc, vertebra fracture or impinged nerve. Consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis before returning to basketball playing, which can worsen these conditions.

Severity of Injury

The severity of the injury will determine whether you should continue to play basketball and whether playing will increase pain levels. Prolonged issues related to basketball, a sport whose athletes suffer from chronically hyperextending the lower back, can eventually lead to disc degeneration, loss of spinal muscle elasticity, fractures, disc ruptures and increased nerve impingement. Your doctor will perform an MRI to properly diagnose the problem and see the extent of your injury to develop a rehabilitation program that meets your needs.

The Role of Impact on Pain

The spine acts like one great big shock absorber. When you walk, jog or jump, the spine compresses. In a healthy person, the intervertebral discs compress and return the natural state once the activity is done, serving as the primary shock-absorbing component. Those with back pain often experience compression that can impinge on a nerve, leading to further problems. Low impact exercises don’t involve jumping, and include activities such as stretching, walking and swimming. High impact exercises include running, tennis and basketball. Basketball has more impact issues than running because there is a constant change of direction and contact with other players.

Preparing to Play

If stopping basketball completely is out of the question for you, you should improve the strength of the large core muscles in your legs, abdomen and back as well as the small stabilizers. Stretch adequately prior to playing basketball to help reduce stress on the back. Stretching helps lengthen muscles; when incorporated with a low impact warm-up such as a few minutes on an exercise bike, the muscles get warm and prepared for exertion. Building core muscle strength further reduces back pain problems. Hamstrings and quadriceps should be strong, and squats and lunges build these core muscles. Use a physio ball for situps and crunches to work out the core abdominal muscles and the stabilizers as well.