Volleyball Player Injury Series: Low Back Pain- “The Real Culprit(s)”

Many times the low back isn’t really the culprit when it comes to low back pain.

How is it not? It’s my back that hurts.

If not the low back, what’s responsible?

Read more to find out the two places I look at and assess to find out who the potential true culprits are...

If it’s not the back, why are you having low back pain?

Raise your hand if you know

If you don’t know, raise your hand anyways because that’s the answer!

It depends if you’re a righty or a lefty, but yes, one of the true culprits for your low back pain can be your shoulder. The shoulder of your swinging arm to be exact. Another one can be your thoracic spine (mid back)

How’s that make sense?

Let’s start with the shoulder…

Serving and hitting in volleyball requires a lot of movement from the shoulder.You need to be able to get your arm up (shoulder flexion), out to the side (shoulder abduction) and rotated back (shoulder external rotation) in order to load up for your swing. As you swing and follow through the arm comes down (shoulder extension), and then depending on the swing, across the body (shoulder adduction) or turning in (shoulder internal rotation).

* Here’s a picture of a swing. In this freeze frame the shoulder is in flexion, abduction, and external rotation.

If the shoulder lacks mobility and the ability to move through the required amount of these ranges of motion necessary to swing, it will start compensating and getting the movement from somewhere else.

If you can’t raise your arm up high enough and lack shoulder flexion, many times you will extend into the lower back, in order to stay behind the ball.

Now onto the mid back…

In this picture the spine is extended (bent backwards) and rotated to the right, loaded up to swing.

You need to be able to extend (bend backwards) and rotate your spine, to help load up for your swing. The area of the spine that these motions should come from is your thoracic spine (mid back). The vertebrae (bones of the spine) in the mid back, based on the way they are designed and on the angle they sit at, are made to rotate,extend, and to be mobile.The lumbar spine or lower back, again based on the design and angle they are orientated at, are meant to be stable.

If and when, the thoracic spine doesn’t have the appropriate mobility (like at the shoulder), it will compensate and get that movement from somewhere else. A lot of times athletes will start extending and rotating into the lower spine (keep in mind: these vertebrae aren’t designed to move around a lot).

There you have it!

Those are, to me, usually the two true culprits and reasons why low back pain and injuries to the low back occur.

In both cases the low back is suffering due to lack of mobility in the the shoulder and thoracic spine. Keep making the body do something that it doesn’t like to or wasn’t really designed to do, eventually you run into issues!

If you are experiencing shoulder or back pain, I hope this article was helpful to you. If you are not experiencing pain right now, I urge you to not wait until it is an issue to address potential problems. Come get assessed, so we can help fix or prevent any issues.