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Low Back Pain in College Athletes: A Prospective Study Correlating Lower Extremity Overuse or Acquired Ligamentous Laxity With Low Back Pain

Nadler, Scott F., DO*; Wu, Karen D., BS*; Galski, Thomas, PhD; Feinberg, Joseph H., MD‡§

Health Services Research

Study Design. A prospective evaluation of the incidence of low back pain in college athletes was under-taken.

Objectives. To evaluate prospectively leg length discrepancy, hip flexor tightness, and lower extremity acquired laxity or overuse as predictive factors for low back pain in college athletes.

Summary of Background Data. A pilot study found an association between low back pain and the factors to be studied. Several allusions to the kinetic chain theory appear in the literature, but little prospective research has been done in examining the effects of lower extremity involvement on the back.

Methods. Two-hundred fifty-seven college athletes representing nine varsity sports were screened during a preseason sports physical examination. Measures of flexibility, ligamentous stability, leg length discrepancy, and overuse syndromes were recorded. Athletes were observed throughout the ensuing year for low back pain requiring treatment by the athletic trainer. Those athletes with low back pain as the result of direct trauma to the region were excluded from the data.

Results. Twenty-four athletes (9.3%) received treatment for low back pain. Thirteen of 87 women (15%) compared with 11 of 170 men (6%) required treatment for low back pain (P = 0.048). Of 57 athletes with lower extremity acquired laxity or overuse, low back pain developed in 14 (P < 0.001).

Conclusions. Athletes with lower extremity acquired ligamentous laxity or overuse may be at risk for the development of noncontact low back pain during athletic competition. Female athletes with lower extremity involvement appeared to have a higher incidence of low back pain treatment compared with their male counter-parts. Inflexibility of the lower extremities or leg length discrepancy were not associated with future low back pain treatment.

From the *University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, †Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation, East Orange, ‡Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation, West Orange, and §Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey.

Acknowledgment date: October 10, 1996.

First revision date: February 19, 1997.

Acceptance date: July 16, 1997.

Device status category: 1.

Address reprint requests to: Scott F. Nadler, DO; University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; 90 Bergen Street, Suite 3100; Newark, NJ 07103-2499.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.