Low back pain among endurance athletes with and without specific back loading--a cross-sectional survey of cross-country skiers, rowers, orienteerers, and nonathletic controls

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2004 Feb 15;29(4):449-54. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000096176.92881.37.


Study design: Cross-sectional survey among athletes competing at the national elite level in cross-country skiing, rowing, and orienteering, as well as a matched nonathletic control group.

Objective: To compare the prevalence of symptoms of low back pain between endurance sports with different loading characteristics on the lumbar region: cross-country skiing, rowing, and orienteering, as well as a nonathletic control group.

Summary of background data: Although it is claimed that back pain is a frequent problem in endurance sports loading the lower spine such as rowing or cross-country skiing, the prevalence of low back problems in such sports has not been compared with relevant control groups.

Methods: Self-reported questionnaire on low back pain adapted for sports based on standardized Nordic questionnaires for musculoskeletal symptoms. Responders were 257 cross-country skiers (response rate: 100%), 199 rowers (99.5%), and 278 orienteerers (99.3%), and 197 control subjects (66%).

Results: Low back pain was reported to be somewhat more common among cross-country skiers and rowers than orienteerers and nonathletic controls. The prevalence among cross-country skiers of reported low back pain ever (65.4%) and low back pain during the previous 12 months (63.0%) was higher than nonathletic controls (OR [95% CI]: 1.94 [1.29-2.92]). Rowers (25.6%) reported missing training because of low back pain more frequently than orienteerers did (13.7%, OR: 2.16 [1.25-3.74]). The athletes reported more low back pain during periods when training and competition load was higher, and cross-country skiers more frequently reported having low back problems using classic than freestyle skiing techniques.

Conclusions: Low back pain appears to be somewhat more common in endurance sports that specifically load the low back during training and competition. The relationship between seasonal training patterns and specific skiing techniques indicate that there is a relationship between low back pain and the specific loading patterns of skiing and rowing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Prevalence
  • Reference Values
  • Sports / classification
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology