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Lower Spine News

Athletes Go to the Core for Better Back Strength

You might think athletes are less likely to have low back pain than the average person. After all, they're in such good shape! But in reality, athletes of all kinds are at greater risk for back pain because of previous sports injuries. For example, a leg injury changes the way the body moves from the leg up to the back. Athletes with leg injuries from overuse or ligament damage are more likely to need treatment for back pain.

To combat injuries of the back and legs, athletes often follow a specific training regimen. This group of exercises is called the "core-strengthening program." It includes exercises for the muscles of the trunk, spine, and hips. These exercises are done four to five times each week during the preseason, and two to three times per week during the season. Each exercise session takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

This kind of supervised program has been recommended and used for years. However, there has been no research to show that it's really effective. A group of researchers decided to test this program. They looked at the impact of a core-strengthening program on the amount of low back pain in college athletes. To do this, they divided athletes into two groups and followed them for two years.

Each of the athletes had a physical exam before starting. Also, their hip extensor muscles were tested for strength. The first group of athletes did the core-strengthening exercises. The second group did not participate in this program but did a training program for their sport. The number of athletes treated for low back pain was recorded. The results were compared for men and women.

In this study, the core-strengthening program did not significantly affect the number of athletes who developed low back pain. Although there was a reduction in the number of male athletes who had low back pain after the program, this difference was felt to be slight. As a group, low back pain among the female athletes was not impacted by core strengthening. The authors attribute this to the possible need for improved hip strength in this group of women athletes.

More studies of this kind with more participants are needed before any real conclusions can be made. It may be that training exercises in sports should be different for men and women. Notably, only one set of muscles was tested in this study. Improvement in other muscle groups such as the abdominal muscles may have affected the low back, but these were not tested. Future studies may look at each muscle group and compare before and after results for both men and women.


Scott F. Nadler, DO. Hip Muscle Imbalance and Low Back Pain In Athletes: Influence of Core Strengthening. In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. January 2002. Vol. 34. No. 1. Pp. 9-16.

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