By: John Gallucci, Jr., MS, ATC, DPT
President, JAG-ONE Physical Therapy
Medical Coordinator, Major League Soccer
Tightness, fatigue, pain and weakness in the low back are symptoms that I have heard all too often throughout the soccer community. “I tried to loosen my back, but as I played the tightness and pain became worse and I had to stop playing.” If you are a recreational player, high school or college player, weekend warrior or professional athlete, low back pain is a constant occurrence amongst players. As in many running athletes, your back becomes tight due to repetition, poor warm up, poor stretching and poor strengthening techniques.
When dealing with back injuries in soccer, one of the first things we need to learn is common sense. Soccer is a running, jumping, cutting, sprinting and kicking sport, and if you are not prepared for its demands you will sustain an injury. The low back muscles will usually begin to get tight as a result of tightness in the hamstring, gluteus and IT band, which is common in all running athletes. As soon as one of these structures tightens, your pelvis becomes immobile, which causes your par spinal muscles to work harder for the demand of the sport of soccer. Then, with tightness in your muscles you rotate and kick the ball across the field and the pain becomes unbearable and you feel as if you will drop to the floor.
Some easy, common sense concepts go a long way. First, as with all running athletes you need to participate in a full body flexibility program. Before practice or games I recommend a warm up of at least 10 minutes or when you begin to perspire. At this point you should stretch the large group muscles for 3 repetitions for 10 to 15 seconds each. Make sure to focus on hamstring, low back and gluteus stretches. Participate in your game or practice, followed by a cool down and then stretch again. At this point you should hold your stretches for at least 25-30 seconds. On your days off you should warm up at least 1 time daily followed by stretching. This will maintain good flexibility which will ultimately decrease injuries. If you participate regularly in sports it is also recommended to maintain a good strengthening program pre and post season. While you are in season, soccer athletes should be on a strengthening maintenance program at least 3 times a week. Your strengthening program should include a good core development program designed for the soccer athlete which will insure good biomechanical posture control. Good postural control will keep the pelvis in a neutral position which will decrease low back symptoms in the soccer player. It is also recommended, as with all athletes, to keep the body hydrated efficiently with water or sports drinks. A muscle becomes fatigued more quickly if it is not hydrated and therefore, can go into spasm much easier.
In summary, to maintain a healthy back while playing soccer it is important to maintain flexibility throughout the gluteus, hamstrings, IT band and back, condition for the demands of the sport of soccer and maintain hydration.
For more information in regards to back injuries in soccer, please be sure to check out Soccer Injury Prevention and Treatment: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Players, Parents, and Coaches written by John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT.