The two most common areas of pain for cheerleaders are the ankle and the spine. While the ankle may represent a somewhat serious injury, lower back pain (LBP) in a cheer athlete can be as simple as a pulled muscle or something much more serious.
Lower back pain in the cheer athlete is so common that it is almost expected at least once during the cheer career. Most of the time, it is felt when the lumbar spine (lower back) is place in excessive extension (leaning back). There can be many reasons that cheer athletes experience LBP. After due diligence and ruling out odd things like kidney stones, digest organ problem, and other visceral (internal organs) problems; the most likely culprit for LBP during extension is the spine.
Cheer athletes are notorious for the “cheer body” or “cheer posture”. You’ve all seen it. I affectionately refer to it as “J-Lo” posture….mom’s and dad’s will get that a little quicker than the younger crowd.
The “seat” sticks out, the belly drops, and the back is constantly in a state of extension. This is caused by excessively tight hip flexors, weak lower core, weak glutes, and excessively flexible hamstrings. Now, while this may not immediately present a problem, the long term implications are very serious. If the spine stays in this excessively extended position, it can eventually lead to fracture and potential nerve damage.
The three phases of this condition are:
1. Facet irritation or stress reaction in the Pars of the spine (just a fancy name for a part of the spinal bones or vertebrae)
3. Traumatic fracture leading to potential shifting of the lumbar spine
Phase 1 can usually be remedied and prevented by introducing the proper mechanics and working on the posture deficiencies that we mentioned above, but if we begin to get into a true spinal stress reaction or fracture, we are going to have to take a period of rest.
If you (or your athletes) experience LBP, it is very important to not ignore it. Find a local sports chiro, physical therapist, physio (for my overseas folks) and get an accurate diagnosis. If you need help finding a reputable one near you…email me or comment below.
The Cheer Doc is an online resource for cheer athletes, gymnasts, tumblers, and other acrobatic type athletes to learn how to improve athletic performance as well prevent injuries.