Nearly everyone, at some point in their life, will have to deal with some sort of pain in their lower back due to the fact that this portion of the body is under a nearly constant state of stress and strain. For athletes, the chances of developing lower back pain are amplified due to their naturally active lifestyle compounded by the extra pressures they exert on this specific area.

Lower back pain develops when undue stress is put on the muscles and ligaments of this section of the back. Also, because athletes often perform repeated actions that compound that amount of stress, the discs and vertebrae of the entire spine are being put under intense strain. Indeed, stress fractures—caused by spinal compression—are common in athletes, as are ruptured discs and other acute and chronic conditions.

Athletes who are especially at risk for lower back damage and pain are those who don’t warm up and stretch their muscles adequately before embarking on strenuous physical activity. When the muscles of the lumbar region of the spine aren’t prepared for stress, they can become stiff and inflexible and are at risk for injury, which will inevitably lead to pain in the lower back. And once these muscles and ligaments have sustained damage, the chances of re-injuring this area are multiplied greatly. It’s important, therefore, that athletes prepare for activity properly, ensure their equipment (especially their shoes) are adequate for the activity they’re undertaking and take rest breaks in between exercises or movements that put stress on the lumbar region.

Clinically, the amount of pain experienced from an athletic injury to the lower back varies: many sufferers report that their pain increases during periods of rest while others find that the pain level increases slowly while they’re in the midst of being active (which may be a sign of spondylolysis, common with activities that require a good deal of jumping and running). And the types of pain their experiencing may differ depending on whether it originates with an injured ligament or ongoing damage to a deteriorating disc.

As with all injuries to the back, diagnoses involve physical examinations by a doctor and, in some cases, imaging studies through the use of x-rays, CT scans or MRIs (in the case of more serious problems with the discs of the spine or if degenerative conditions are suspected). Bone scans may also be utilized should ongoing and persistent pain warrant them.

In treating injuries to the lower back that are causing pain, the most important aspect is a temporary cessation of the activities that led to the injury and ensuing pain and an adequate rest period as advised by a physician. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to strengthen the affected area, along with anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications to help with pain management. For common cases of low back pain surgery is rare, but may be required if a patient does not respond favorably to the more conventional treatments.