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Sports with a Higher Risk of Herniated Discs


Physical activities, including sports, are generally good for your spine and the rest of your body. However, some sports can place enough added stress on your lower back to contribute to herniated discs. This doesn't mean you have to avoid the sports discussed below, but you will at least have a better idea of what precautions to take to prevent disc problems.

Contact Sports

Contact sports naturally place more pressure on spinal discs in a way that can result in a herniated disc (also commonly known as a "
slipped disc" or “ruptured disc”). Football is one of the top causes because of the many opportunities for direct body-to-body contact. This also applies to any other sports where contact with other players or the ground is common, including soccer, lacrosse, and rugby. Competitive wrestling is another direct contact sport that can be especially stressful on spinal discs, sometimes enough to result in herniation.

Repetitive Impact/Motion Sports or Activities

Any sports that involve repetitive impacts, such as competitive running, can also increase the risk of having a herniated disc that results in
lower back pain. This can include any sports or activities that require a lot of running and repetitive movements that strain the muscles that buffer the spine.

Sports with Excess Twisting or Turning

Golf and tennis are among the sports that fit into this category. Twisting or turning, such as what you might do when swinging a golf club, increases the potential of throwing off your spine's alignment. When this happens, discs between spinal bones can be stressed enough to weaken their exterior wall. If this pressure continues over time, the affected discs may become herniated. Nearby nerves can also be irritated if a disc slips out of place or bulges out toward nerve roots without actually becoming herniated.

Sports with a High Chance of Falling

Any sport with the possibility of frequent or hard falls could result in a herniated disc. Higher-risk activities include skiing, competitive skating, or similar activities. In such cases, you can reduce your risk of damaging your spinal discs by taking the time to practice and improve your ability to remain stable.

Protecting Spinal Discs while Enjoying Sports

You can still enjoy sports that are a bit more stressful on your spine and its discs if you take proper precautions. Start by wearing correctly fitting equipment (e.g., not too tight and not excessively loose). This typically means wearing a helmet and pads. Further protect your spinal discs when enjoying sports by:

• Wearing a lumbar support belt if you have existing disc/spine issues
• Stretching first to keep spine-supporting muscles flexible
• Strengthening muscles that support your spine when not playing sports
• Maintaining proper form and technique

If you have a herniated disc due to sports-related activities, surgery may be discussed and potentially recommended to provide relief. For example, if your herniated disc isn't responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be the best option. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc have a significantly higher risk of reherniation following surgery. Often, the surgeon won’t know the size of the hole until beginning surgery, and having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients didn’t undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and doesn’t require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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