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The Impact of Weightlifting on Young Spines

July 31st, 2019 by Synergy

Is weightlifting safe for adolescents?

sports medicine, chiropractic care, spine injuries, weightlifting, sport injuries

No. Well, yes. Okay maybe…in the right situations. That is about as clear as it gets concerning the growing epidemic of adolescent injuries from weightlifting and competitive sports.

There is no disputing the facts that plague childhood athletics. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that the more specialized an athlete is in one or two sports, the more likely they are to get an injury. However, few studies have linked injuries from any specific sport to progressive problems in the spine—until now.

Is adolescent weightlifting harmful?

Parents and coaches are always looking for a competitive edge, and strength gains can help fill that role. What are the risks and benefits of youth resistance training, though? Many studies highlight the risks of improper weight training. Incorrect lifting technique, lack of proper training, and advancing weights too quickly are commonplace. These mistakes coupled with the fact that kids’ and adolescents’ growth plates are still open and developing may lead to a higher rate of injury and long-term damage.

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE studied twelve adolescent powerlifters, and the conclusions were dramatic. At the start of the study, two of the adolescents had abnormalities in the lumbar bones of their back. Two years later, that number had jumped to eight. Finally, three years into the study, eleven of the twelve adolescents had lumbar abnormalities. The scariest part is that most of these teens wouldn’t have known about the problem because only three of them had lower back pain.

These findings leave very little room for dispute. Results confirm that competitive weightlifting as an adolescent, leads to long-term degeneration in the lumbar spine. Our team at Synergy Sports Wellness Institute sees similar scenarios daily.

Young athletes are affecting their long-term health with repetitive movements and a lack of rest. Baseball players with “little league elbow,” dancers with bunions, runners with shin splints, and basketball players with “jumper’s knee” are all too common.  Year-round, sport-specific competitive athletes live in a cycle that doesn’t give their bodies the opportunities for resting and rebuilding that they need.

How much activity is too much?

There is no clear answer to the question of how much activity is too much, and it probably depends on the sport. We do know that the 12 weightlifters in the study above trained extensively: about two hours per day for an average of five days per week, and 500 hours per year. Clearly, from the results of this study, that amount of weightlifting is too much for a developing spine.

Teens are getting more and more focused on the sports they’re most passionate about, and we may not be able to stop that. However, there is a way to keep the damage to a minimum: rest.

Sports participation and resistance training are designed to stress the body and rebuild the tissue in a therapeutic way. The body needs rest in order to do that rebuilding, though. Without rest, an athlete’s body is continually breaking down tissue without the ability to rebuild it.

As providers, we are only one piece of the puzzle. Our goal is to work with our patients to not only treat the conditions they already have but also to make the changes that prevent those problems from getting worse.

If you are concerned about the effects of weightlifting on your young athlete, call Synergy Sports Wellness Institute™ at 404-352-8900. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates about maintaining peak health and wellness.