Spondy’s And The Youth: 3 Reasons For The Growing Problem

spondylolisthesis growing problem

Having a combined 25+ years in experience working at therapy clinics, gyms, and fitness facilities, Todd and I have been able to see many different trends and patterns with certain injuries and conditions.

One alarming pattern we have noticed over the last few years is the number of young athletes that are suffering from either spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

Unfortunately, the number of teenage athletes that are being diagnosed with spondylolysis is very high and it continues to grow and get worse. One study performed by Micheli and Wood in 1995, estimated that as much as 47% of back pain in adolescents was primarly caused by spondylolysis.

This is a scary number and provides even more incentive to have your child looked at by a medical professional whenever back pain complaints arise.

This high numbers lead to the question…….

Why is this condition becoming more common among the young?

Several reasons may lead to increased likelihood of developing spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis in the youth; let’s look at a few of the possible causes.

1. Specializing in one sport at a young age.

I believe this could be a major cause for not only spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis, but other overuse injuries as well.

In today’s world, competitive kids and parents do what they can to help themselves excel in a certain sport.  In a world that places so much glory on collegiate scholarships, huge professional contracts and endorsement deals, people will do what they can to reach these levels.

Years ago it wasn’t uncommon for an athlete to play multiple sports all the way through high school.

But now is different.

Now we have kids ages 10 and under specializing in one sport. 

No longer is baseball in the summer, football in the fall and basketball in the winter.  Now we have 80 baseball games in the summer, travel baseball in the fall, and baseball camps in the winter.

youth baseball

Specializing in one sport at an early age places extreme stress and demands on certain areas of the body.  Think about the hundreds of throws being made in baseball seasons.   If these growing athletes have tightness’s or weaknesses (most growing adolescents do) compensations can occur.

And most of the time this places large amounts of torque and stress on the spine which can eventually lead to stress fractures and spondylolysis.

One piece of advice I used to provide parents who asked the all too common question, “How do I make my 10 year faster and stronger for baseball?” was to provide the simple answer……play basketball, soccer, and other sports.

It usually got me a few odd stares and probably caused some parents to take their kids else where, but the answer is the truth.

Multiple sports provides different physical and mental challenges that are great for the growing population. Plus, it keeps the physical stresses and demands off a specific muscle group and challenges the body as a whole.

Kids should be kids and play multiple sports and enjoy being with friends. Not pumping iron at young ages and specializing on one thing.

2. Lack of proper mobility, flexibility, strength and/or stability.

Another popular trend now is to join a speed or strength and conditioning program to enhance performance. However many programs are quick to try and make improvements to speed and strength without improving the basics first.

Young athletes, ages 8-12, are seeking advanced speed or strength training when emphasis should be placed on developing coordination and bodyweight to strength ratio.

Some of the young bodies are not ready for the rigors of this type of training.  All of the stress in combination with all of the activities on the court, field or gym can lead to high stress demands on the low back.

If you are seeking a speed or strength program for your young athlete make sure to tour the facility, get to know the staff and check the credentials and certifications.  Not all of these facilities are the same and to be honest, not all coaches are certified.

Improve coordination, strength to bodyweight and stability before jumping into improving speed and jumping ability.

3. Some sports simply involve more risk than others

Some sports such as football, gymnastics, wrestling and other sports provide more risk for low back injuries than others.

Most of the time it is due to putting the back in vulnerable postions that requires an adequate amount of strength,stability,mobility and flexibility to support these areas.  Most of the growing youth lacks the support the back needs to avoid stress and overuse.

a_woman_in_yoga_bridge_pose

These sports are also becoming more and more popular with an increased number of participants. This in combination with so many kids focusing on these sports exclusively at a young age is a recipe for disaster.

This is not a knock or complaint about these sports, it is just the facts.

These sports can place certain demands on the back that other sports do not and it places an emphasis on the importance of proper strengthening and development of young athletes.

When kids specialize in these sports at a young age they may experience back pain in the teenage years due to the stress developed over the years from the repetitive movements.

To help combat this stress, proper exercises can be implemented to make sure baseline strength and coordination levels are meet to help decrease the likelihood of specific back injuries.

Make sure to speak with the coach, administrator or who ever is in charge of certain sports to discuss implementing a proper strength and condition program for your child. Taking preventive steps is a great way to avoid pain and discomfort in the long run. (note: improving strength for the young dosen’t mean tons of weight should be involved. Simple bodyweight exercises and movements designed to improve nueromuscular timing and coordination work fantastic!)

These are three of many possible reasons for the common diagnosis of spondylolysis in adolescent athletes.

Make sure if your child is complaining of low back pain to get them to a medical professional. Catching the problem early is one of the best ways to create a speedy, healthy recovery.

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