Despite putting constant stress on their backs, rowers and cross-country skiers may not experience any greater levels of chronic lower back pain than the rest of us, according to a new study.
While elite athletes in certain sports such as gymnastics and wrestling have been found that have an increased risk of lower back pain, rowers and cross-country skiers don’t have to bend themselves backwards in the same way.
But they do repeatedly flex and extend their spines.
“They expose their backs to monotonous movements for a number of years,” said Ida Stange Foss, of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences in Oslo, the lead researcher on the study.
Yet in the long run, Foss’s team found, elite rowers and skiers may have no more lower back problems than couch potatoes whose only sporting activity is watching it on television.
Of 415 former rowers and cross-country skiers surveyed, about 56 percent said they’d had any lower back pain in the past year. That compared with 53 percent of non-athletes – a difference that could have been due to chance.
However, the news was not all good. Rowers and skiers who’d trained harder in the past year (more than 550 hours) were also more likely to have had a bout of low back pain in the past year.
The pain was generally short-lived. “Most of the elite athletes reported a pain duration between one and seven days, (or) eight to 30 days during the past year,” Foss said. “Very few reported pain lasting for more than one month.”
Still, that means active rowers and cross-country skiers might need to take steps to protect their backs.
“It is important for the athletes to prevent lower back pain through strengthening the core muscles and increasing the core stability, to better tolerate the high training volume,” Foss said.
The study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, included 173 rowers and 242 cross-country skiers who’d been surveyed back in 2000. Foss’s team surveyed them again in 2010, asking about their training and exercise levels over the past decade, any problems with back pain.