Severe back pain in elite athletes: a cross-sectional study on 929 top athletes of Germany

Eur Spine J. 2016 Apr;25(4):1204-10. doi: 10.1007/s00586-015-4210-9. Epub 2015 Sep 3.


Purpose: The cross-sectional study evaluates the incidence, localization, treatment, and influencing factors of back pain (BP) in Germany's elite athletes.

Methods: An online questionnaire was sent out to 3564 top athletes. We used the VAS to identify the intensity of BP and SPSS for statistical analyses.

Results: 929 athletes responded. 514 (55.3%) had BP within the last 12 months, mainly located in the lumbar spine (n = 293, 56.1%). The average pain intensity was 5.75/10. Back-affecting exercise and additional burdens (e.g. at their place of work) did not increase the intensity of BP. When dividing the athletes into two groups according to the BP intensity, BP did not correlate with gender, age or BMI.

Conclusion: At least every tenth athlete suffers temporarily from low BP at a level at which spine surgery could be the only option to relieve the pain. BP occurs independently of back-affecting training and additional stress. Further evaluation is needed to identify factors for avoiding severe BP in top athletes.

Keywords: Back pain; Elite athletes; Spine; Sport.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult