Skiing back pain is a relatively common consequence of this popular winter fitness activity. Skiing can contribute to dorsalgia symptoms through many mechanisms, including muscular and skeletal problems. Patients may also suffer psychogenic expressions related to their participation in skiing.
Skiing encompasses many different types of athletic exertions, including downhill, jumping and cross country, as well as many combined disciplines that integrate other sports such as shooting, running or cycling. Skiing is the most popular and widely practiced winter sport pastime and enjoys active participation throughout much of the world.
We have been receiving correspondence from skiers for years, asking for help with their acute or chronic back and neck pain problems. We have seen all manner of back and spine injuries associated with skiing, witnessed the full range of muscular pain problems and have observed a growing trend towards the development of mindbody pain syndromes, especially in serious and competitive skiers. Therefore, we are providing this guide to help patients better understand how skiing may factor into their back pain suffering through physical and psychological processes.
Injury is certainly the most commonly perceived cause of ski-related pain. In many instances, damage to the anatomy is very real, while in other circumstances, the patient might only believe themselves to be injured, when no actual lasting trauma exists. Below are listed some of the more common scenarios involving injury to the back and spine that might be caused by skiing:
Skiing involves constant muscular exertions that can place great stress on the anatomy, especially in unconditioned people. It is very common for skiers to suffer muscular, tendon and ligamentous strain from even a perfect day on the slopes. Minor muscular soreness is normal for many athletes and occasional participants to endure. These scenarios involve small tears in soft tissue fibers and might create mild to severe pain for a few days time. Most minor strain issues require no professional treatment, although their symptomatic duration may be decreased using ice, heat, gentle massage and some OTC pain medications.
Falls are common in skiing. Most falls are minor and result in no injury at all, while others may involve small bumps, bruises, contusions and lacerations. Falling can become a big problem when the skier is going very fast, falls poorly or falls from a height. All these events can lead to far worse traumas, including broken bones, fractured spinal vertebrae, herniated discs, injured coccyx or severely damaged soft tissues. These types of injurious events should always receive proper medical evaluation and must be treated appropriately on a case-by-case basis.
Striking an object, especially at speed, is a danger for skiers. Many people hit trees, structural objects, or other skiers, potentially causing severe injury. Skiers who hit solid objects might suffer contusions, lacerations, fractures and whiplash. Broken bones are commonplace for severe collisions. Once again, these types of traumas should be diagnosed by medical professionals and proper therapy rendered based on the results of a comprehensive diagnostic process.
Twisted ankles, knees and hips are common injuries for skiers. Skis can become stuck, causing tremendous stress on joints and often creating injury. In some cases, these same types of structural pressure can affect the spinal joints, sacroiliac joints and other structures, potentially sourcing back pain symptoms.
Even expert skiers can suffer spinal injury, despite not hitting any object or falling. Simple participation in skiing can create muscle imbalances, recurrent strain and other conditions that might create or exacerbate structural spinal and anatomical issues.
Skiing can be a high-pressure and anxiety-producing activity in many different ways. For beginners, the fear of injury, heights, speed or the general circumstances of participation may create significant internal tension and necessitate the development of mindbody symptoms. In serious competitors, the pressure of winning and performing can enact similar anxiety problems that might result in psychosomatic pain conditions. Skiers who have fallen, struck an object or been otherwise inured in the past demonstrate an especially high rate of mindbody pain associated with continuing participation in the sport.
Professionals need to do well in order to gain and maintain sponsorships, as well as have access to training and competition opportunities. This pressure can take a tremendous toll on the subconscious mind, creating the ideal circumstances for psychogenic back pain to commence.
Serious skiers, like many other types of athletes, are well known to demonstrate particular personality types that increase the odds of suffering severe mindbody syndromes. Perfectionism, being driven, self-motivated and self-critical are all developmental traits that are typical of serious skiers. These are also the same traits that set the perfect stage for a psychologically-induced pain syndrome to exist.
Ending skiing-related back pain can be difficult, especially in cases where no known or obvious injury is present to explain the present expression of symptoms. Acute presentations involving falls, collisions and soft tissue injuries will usually heal well with time and the expert application of indicated medical therapies.
Many patients who seek evaluation of pain that is related to skiing might endure incorrect diagnostic processing leading to an inaccurate verdict of the causative source. Remember, one of the most common of all diagnostic blunders is blaming incidental spinal irregularities for creating pain. Since osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease are basically universal in the spines of all adults, and intervertebral herniations are extremely commonplace, these structural presentations are often implicated as the cause of back pain, which is sometimes an incorrect assumption. We have unfortunately seen many serious and professional skiers sidelined permanently by spinal issues that were unlikely to be the causative source of their pain.
Mindbody pain syndromes must be treated with psychoemotional approaches to care. Any physical treatment modality, including and especially surgery, will be ineffective at resolving these types of pain problems. Patients will suffer poor therapy outcomes, enjoy extremely temporary placebo effect of treatment followed by symptomatic recurrence or suffer substitute symptoms in another bodily location. All of these events occur due to the symptom imperative remaining active despite medical care. Mindbody practices, such as knowledge therapy or coaching are ideal for eliminating the underlying reasons for pain generation to occur. Luckily, many fine coaches and sports psychologists already know these truths to be valid and offer services that can get the most disabled skier back on the slopes by ending the subconscious reasons for their continuing pain at its emotional source.