Object: As the sport of triathlon has continued to grow, increasing numbers of triathletes have presented in the neurosurgery clinics with various spinal disorders. This epidemiological study was undertaken to establish the lifetime incidence of neck and back pain, to gauge the prevalence of discogenic pain, and to identify risk factors among triathletes in the Boulder, Colorado, area.
Methods: A live online questionnaire was developed that was used to collect information about physical characteristics, training habits, athletic status, number of races completed, and back pain among triathletes. The incidence of cervical and/or lumbar discogenic back pain was defined according to the duration of symptoms for the most recent pain episode. The lifetime incidence of low-back pain was 67.8%, with 23.7% of cases possibly being discogenic in origin. The number of triathlons in which the respondents had participated and the presence of previous sports-related injuries were predictive of low-back pain (p = 0.02 and p < 0.00001, respectively). The lifetime incidence of neck pain was 48.3%, with 21.4% of cases being consistent with intervertebral disc involvement. The number of previous sports-related injuries was predictive of neck pain (p < 0.00001), and a strong tendency toward neck pain was observed for athletes with more total years of participation in sports (p = 0.06).
Conclusions: The two main risk factors for long-term spinal problems include sports-related injuries and overuse. The study results definitely support the influence of both mechanisms for low-back pain. Neck pain was associated with an injury event, and a strong (although not statistically significant) tendency toward neck pain was observed in respondents with overuse injuries.