Indian sport is replete with stories of its women athletes who win laurels for the country. Unfortunately, due to lack of facilities and trainers, more often than not, they train under adverse conditions and suffer from injuries during crucial stages of their sporting pursuit.
Case in point being World championship and Commonwealth Games gold medallist weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, who had to pull out of the 2018 Asian Games due to a back injury. In February, she made a comeback after a nine-month injury-layoff and won the gold in the 49-kilogram category at the EGAT Cup in Thailand, a qualifier for quota places for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Interestingly, doctors could not diagnose the cause of Chanu’s back pain. Anuj Arenja of QI Spine, India’s foremost medical centre for the diagnosis and treatment of back and neck pain, said, “The WHO states that in nine out of ten cases of back pain, the primary cause or pain is not identified, which is what could have happened in Chanu’s case. Doctors overprescribe X-rays and MRIs, that do not pinpoint the cause in over 85% of back pain cases leading to them to be classified as non-specific back pain with no clear line of treatment despite the costs and health risks involved with the testing.”
Improper training and poor facilities could also be hampering India’s potential medal winners. “As a competitive athlete, you always have the drive to do one more sprint, one more lift, or one more throw. Discomfort during training that does not go away, and often gets worse, means your core muscles are not maintaining your neutral zone in your spine. There is a fine line between safe training and pushing through pain,” adds Dr Garima Anandani, Clinical Director QI Spine Clinic.
Rubina Yadav, Haryana’s national high jump athlete, also made a credible comeback during the March 2019 Federation cup. She tied for first place with BS Supriya of Karnataka, clearing an identical height of 1.78m. A year ago, however, in February 2018, her life had come to a standstill. During one of her regular training sessions, she suffered a back injury which threatened to end her promising sports career.
“It was the most challenging and difficult phase of my life. I had to stop my training as I started experiencing sharp pain in my lower back while attempting the high jump. I was trying hard, but my performance was going down. I had to back out from Commonwealth Games trial and under 20 World Athletic Championship trials,” said Yadav, who had broken a national record in high jump just a year earlier.
Rubina credits QI spine Clinic for her recovery. Three computer-controlled medical devices scanned her spine and back muscles in 16 different ways. This spine function test also called a DSA, revealed that Rubina had developed mechanical low back pain. The extensor muscles and flexors muscles in her lower back were weak, and there was an imbalance between her left and right rotators which was the initial cause of the back pain.
Rubina underwent three months of intensive spine rehabilitation, including core muscle strengthening, stretches, and spine muscle strengthening that gradually helped her recover.
Rubina shares, “In those days, I was constantly worried about my career. However, the doctors at QI Spine have boosted my morale and given me physical, emotional, and psychological support to return back to sports.”
Other small-town heroines of India, such as Patiala’s discus throw champion Kamalpreet Kaur, who overcame back pain to win gold at the Federation cup and heptathlete Swapna Barman from Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, who won gold at the Commonwealth, also overcoming back pain, point to a trend.
Anuj Arenja however, is quick to say that we probably understand back pain better than ever before. “QI’s data intelligence has captured at least 50 to 60 data points for each patient at the diagnostic stage, for over one lac patients. Our data reveals that there are more than 100 different causes of back pain, commonly seen in India. Also, what may not look like back pain, may also be related to muscular complications involving the spine. The highly specialised spine function test we offer can ensure that the benefit of our data intelligence is available to all; and that our award-winning athletes don’t bow out of important tournaments.”
According to a study published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, titled — Prevalence of low back pain among athletes, dated October 25, 2018, the lifetime prevalence of LBP among athletes ranges from 33% to 84%.
However, there is a lack of sound data on the prevalence and mechanism of LBP in some sports such as volleyball, swimming, and track and field.