The Aches & Pains of Athletes

It is all too common for athletes to experience discomfort while training.  We'll discuss the most common types of aches and pains that athletes experience, along with causes and ways to prevent or relieve those pains.

Lower Back Pain

There are several reasons why an athlete may be experiencing pain in the lumbar region. Lower back pain can be serious and medical attention should be sought if the individual is experiencing shooting or intense pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities, or chronic pain. While low back pain can be serious, it is commonly the result of tight hamstrings and hip flexors.

Why it happens:

Tight hamstrings cause the hips and pelvis to tilt back, flattening the lower back.  When the pelvis is tilted out of its' natural position, the hip flexors will also become tight and pain occurs in the lumbar region due to the muscle strain.

How to relieve & prevent it:

Stretching may seem like the obvious answer here, and it is.  Foam rolling the hips, glutes and hamstrings will allow you to stretch the deeper muscles that are causing the pain.  Strengthening these muscles will also help.  Strength training that includes the posterior chain and core will help to prevent muscle imbalances, which are usually where the issue stems from. Exercises involving the posterior chain include deadlifts and bridges.  Core strengthening exercises that may help with relief include planks and resistance band lifts.


Knee Pain

Knee pain, like back pain, can be worrisome to many athletes because of the serious injuries associated with the knees, such as ACL tears.  If the athletes hears a "popping" noise, is unable to bear weight on the leg or has intense or chronic pain, they should consult a doctor immediately.  Often times though, athletes experience an "ache" in or around their knee that is caused by tight or weak muscles surrounding the knee.

Why it happens:
If the hamstrings are too tight or too weak to allow full hip extension, the quadriceps will try to compensate for them, putting extra strain on the knee. The pain occurs because the head of the quadricep is connected to the patella (knee cap).

How to relieve and prevent it: 

Stretching and strengthening the surrounding muscles will gradually relieve knee pain associated with muscle imbalances due to tightness or weakness.  It is important to focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, adductors and abductors when foam rolling and stretching. Strengthening exercises that may help alleviate pain will involve the quadriceps, adductors, abductors, and hamstrings.  While it may seem counterproductive to exercise an aching knee, strengthening the area will be the most beneficial in the long term.



Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps or "charley horses" occur when a muscle involuntarily contracts and does not relax.  The most common sites for muscles cramps are the calves, hamstrings, and arches of the foot, but can occur anywhere that voluntary muscle movement takes place. Muscle cramps can occur in anyone at anytime, but there are some methods of prevention that may save you the pain of one.

Why they happen:

-muscle fatigue
-improper stretching before exercise
-an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate.)

How to relieve and prevent them:

Make sure you are actively warming up and cooling down with dynamic stretches every time you workout.  Drink water throughout the day and drink enough water during exercise to replace lost fluids.  Finally, get the proper nutrition for your activity level to keep your electrolytes balanced.