Spring, Sports & Sprains

Dr. Robert Bohinski, M.D., Ph.D., Mayfield Brain & Spine Neurosurgeon


With spring often comes sprains if you don’t warm up properly before swinging a golf club, serving a tennis ball, hitting the ski slopes or running a mile for the first time following a winter hiatus.

“Remember, before you do anything sports-related, there is a warm-up regimen and a cool down process to follow to avoid injuring yourself,” cautions Robert Bohinski, M.D., Ph.D., Mayfield Brain & Spine neurosurgeon and an avid spring skier.

People may have a spring vacation planned that includes golf or skiing, for instance, but because they’re in the midst of busy work schedules, they don’t take time to prepare physically beforehand, Bohinski points out. “You need to do some basic stretching, increase your cardiovascular tone…that prep is really important.”

Got a Colorado ski trip planned? He suggests getting in plenty of stretching, and walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical for a few weeks prior to your trip. Got that first tee time scheduled in the not-too-distant future? Bohinski again advises a stretching regimen, as well as a visit or two to an indoor driving range where you can gradually get your body used to that activity.

“The motion that golf and tennis have in common is that they are both twisting sports. You’re twisting the upper half of your body at the lower half where the spine connects with the pelvis, and that places a lot of sheer force on your spine, leaving your discs susceptible to injury,” he explains. “The most common way people injure themselves swinging a golf club or tennis racket is pushing their bodies to the competitive edge when they have not been doing that for a while.”

Also, with tennis, you’re jumping, moving quickly on your feet, perhaps diving for a shot, which brings a barrage of impact mechanics into play in addition to all that twisting.

The most common injury suffered by golfers, tennis players and runners is a pulled muscle or back sprain, Bohinski continues. “Spraining your back typically results in really severe back pain. It’s hard to move at all – you can’t get up off the floor, you can’t stand. The pain may be so bad, you are convinced something horrible is wrong, like you fractured a bone or herniated a disc. The pain is typically restricted to your back but may radiate to your hips. Usually, resting for a few days, taking an anti-inflammatory and applying heat will result in dramatic improvement in 48 to 72 hours.”

“Red flag” symptoms to look for – indicating the possibility of a neurological symptom caused by disc herniation – include shooting pain down one leg; numbness, tingling or weakness in a leg; a dropped foot, meaning you can’t lift your foot off the ground; or problems with bowel or bladder function. Bohinski emphasizes, however, that these symptoms only appear in a minority of patients.


Hello, Walking, My Old Friend

Just plain walking outside across natural, changing terrain is the perfect spine-friendly exercise for improving your overall stamina or gradually getting yourself back in shape after the proverbial long winter’s nap.

“Your body is moving and exercising in many ways – uphill, downhill, sideways – so you’re using muscles outside of your spine, and it’s a more natural workout,” Bohinski says.

If you put your hands on your lower back when walking, you can feel your back muscles contract with every step, from one leg to another, he points out. “Walking keeps your posture and spine in line. You’re getting some of the trunk twisting, but in this case, the controlled aspect of it is what’s important. Walking strengthens the muscles that allow you to twist without getting into high-velocity impact.”


Wrapping It Up

Overall, just employing basic common sense appears to be key when first getting into your spring sports groove – especially if you’ve been sitting around binge watching your favorite Netflix shows since Halloween. Hence, sticking to a warm-up regimen is imperative prior to doing anything, including spring yard work and gardening.

“You can throw your back out just pull-starting a weed eater if you have been sedentary all winter,” Bohinski says.

His top tip for avoiding spring sports injuries?

“Just be judicious in your initial aspirations,” he concludes. “Always start out slow before you advance to more competitive play. For example, try not to go directly from no golf to a whole day of golf. Or maybe settle for a 200-yard drive instead of a 300-yard drive. And good footwear always, no matter what you’re doing.”


Mayfield Brain & Spine’s corporate office is located at 3825 Edwards Road, #300, Cincinnati, OH 45209. For more information, call 513.221.1100 or visit www.mayfieldclinic.com/