Background: Back pain is a frequent health problem in the general population. The epidemiology of back pain in the general population is well researched, but detailed data on the prevalence and risk factors of back pain in athletes are rare.
Objective: The primary objective was to review articles about back pain in athletes to provide an overview of its prevalence in different sports and compare its prevalence among various types of sports and the general population.
Data sources: A comprehensive search of articles published through May 2015 was conducted. Two independent reviewers searched six databases from inception (PubMed®, Embase, MEDLINE®, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO and PSYNDEX), using specifically developed search strategies, for relevant epidemiological research on back pain in 14- to 40-year-old athletes of Olympic disciplines. The reviewers independently evaluated the methodological quality of reviewed articles meeting the inclusion criteria to identify potential sources of bias. Relevant data were extracted from each study.
Results: Forty-three articles were judged to meet the inclusion criteria and were included in the assessment of methodological quality. Of these, 25 were assessed to be of high quality. Lifetime prevalence and point prevalence were the most commonly researched episodes and the lower back was the most common localization of pain. In the high-quality studies, lifetime prevalence of low back pain in athletes was 1-94%, (highest prevalence in rowing and cross-country skiing), and point prevalence of low back pain was 18-65% (lowest prevalence in basketball and highest prevalence in rowing).
Conclusion: The methodological heterogeneity of the included studies showed a wide range of prevalence rates and did not enable a detailed comparison of data among different sports, within one discipline, or versus the general population. Based on the results of this review, however, it seems obvious that back pain requires further study in some sports.