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Track and Field Athletes at Risk for Bone Spurs in the Spine

What happens to the spines of career athletes years after they quit playing? That's the subject of this study from Germany. X-rays taken of former elite male athletes from seven track and field events were studied. Football players have been studied before, but there are no previous studies among track athletes.

The researchers also looked at age, body size, and current physical activity as factors leading to changes in the spine. X-ray findings were compared to the former athletes' level of daily activity. Measures used included the height and shape of lumbar discs and the presence of any bone spurs.

The authors report more bone spurs in javelin throwers than any other group. Shot putters, discus throwers, and high jumpers had the next highest level of changes on X-ray. Disc heights at different levels of the spine are reported for each group.

Most of the changes in disc space occurred in the lowest levels of the spine. This was true for all throwing and high jumping athletes. Former shot putters and discus throwers remained much heavier in body weight than other athletes. Former marathon runners had the lowest weights. Marathon runners also had the fewest changes in the spine.

The results of this study suggest that bone spurs develop in areas where heavy loading has occurred in the spine. For example hyperextension and rotation in the high jumper leads to spurs in the lower spine. There were no limits on activity caused by degenerative changes in the spine in any of the former athletes.

Holger Schmitt, MD, et al. Radiographic Changes in the Lumbar Spine in Former Elite Athletes. In Spine. November 15, 2004. Vol. 29. No. 22. Pp. 2554-2559.


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