PMR for Athletes: How to Prevent and Treat Back Pain

PMR for Athletes: How to Prevent and Treat Back Pain


Athletes often suffer from back pain. It may be due to overtraining, improper technique, or regular wear-and-tear. This can significantly reduce their performance.

Fortunately, there is a solution: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). PMR may help decrease tension in the back muscles and tissues, reducing discomfort and improving performance.

This guide explains how PMR can be effectively utilized by athletes. It covers:

  • Terminology
  • Strategies
  • Methods
  • Tips for using PMR

It also provides advice on how to include it in daily activities so as to prevent and treat back pain and achieve better results.

Causes of Back Pain in Athletes

Back pain is a common injury amongst athletes. It can be due to many things, like bad form, incorrect techniques, or overusing the body. Here are some of the usual causes of back pain in athletes, and what one can do to avoid and treat it:

  • Bad form
  • Incorrect techniques
  • Overusing the body

Poor Posture

Poor posture is a major cause of back pain for both athletes and the general population. It is the way we stand, sit, and move our spine when we are active. Poor posture leads to tight and weak muscles, which causes pain and tightness all over, especially in the back.

To maintain good posture, strength training, stretching, and body awareness should be used.

  • Strength training exercises such as core muscles, e.g. abdominals, lower back, obliques, glutes, and hip flexors, help support posture when doing physical activities. This is especially important for athletes during demanding activities like plyometrics, agility drills, or lifting sessions.
  • Stretching is necessary before any physical activity or after a workout. Hamstrings, hip flexors, and upper back/shoulder stretches increase mobility and reduce tightness in muscles, helping improve posture.
  • Body awareness is important for athletes to understand how postures affect their spine and muscular imbalances. Knowing this helps make better decisions for activities at home or practice/competition sites, reducing back pain due to poor posture.


Back pain is common among athletes. It is usually caused by overuse. This includes strained muscles or tendons from overtraining, using wrong form during activities, or pushing exercises too hard. Repetitive movements with twisting, bending, and reaching are bad for the back muscles and spine. Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle also cause muscle imbalances, leading to back pain.

Athletes must pay attention to their body’s fatigue signs. Low-impact exercises like yoga and swimming are helpful in strengthening back muscles and avoiding injury. Warm-up routines before physical activity are also important for preventing and treating back pain in athletes.

Weak Core Muscles

Core strengthening is key for relieving back pain in athletes. Core muscles provide stability for the spine, hips, and shoulder girdle. They also help with a balanced and powerful muscular system, to absorb shock when running or leaping.

When core muscles are weak or not trained, other pathways can be overstretched from repetitive movement or poor posture. Common causes of weak core muscles are muscle imbalances, breakdowns of movement patterns, underdeveloped stabilizers, and inhibited motor control systems. This can be due to poor form and technique when exercising, or incorrect postures during athletics activities.

It’s essential to focus on proper movement mechanics while training, so the body can carry out quick, precise motions while maintaining dynamic stability.

Core strengthening exercises like abdominal bridges, plank holds, and hip thrusts can strengthen the deep abdominal muscles, to stabilize your body and protect your spine. Also, stretching before training sessions and regular spinal mobility exercises, can help reduce restrictions caused by sitting too long or stress-induced tension. Combining all these techniques can help reduce the risk of back pain and injuries, due to activities like running or jumping, in sports like basketball, soccer, football, and more.

Prevention Strategies

Athletes, beware! If you’re running, weightlifting or playing sports, there’s a chance of back pain. To stay injury-free and keep your performance top-notch, prevention is key. Here are some great strategies to protect your body and avoid any pain. Let’s check them out.

Strengthen Core Muscles

Strengthening the core abdominals and back muscles is essential for a healthy musculoskeletal system. It reduces injury risk and helps with back pain in athletes. Exercises such as planks, bridges, and pelvic tilts are good for getting the core ready. Posture and form help keep the spine in alignment.

Bicycling and swimming help strengthen abdominal core and provide low-impact aerobic exercise. Foam rolling can ease lower back tension, like a massage. Consider adding yoga too. Certain poses, such as cat-cow, increase flexibility and strength. This reduces muscular imbalances in the musculoskeletal system.

Improve Posture

Good posture is important for a healthy spine. When standing, make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in the knees. Your weight should be slightly forward. Have your hips and neck level. Don’t have your shoulders raised.

If sitting for a long time, take regular breaks to stretch. Change positions every 15 minutes. Feet should be flat on the floor. Don’t slouch. Bottom should be firmly planted on the seat. Don’t cross legs tightly. Adjust chair height. Use lumbar support. A rolled up towel or cushion can help.

Monitor Training Volume

It is vital to keep track of training volume. Reduce the amount of work you do if it’s too much for your body. Have reasonable goals. Even if you feel good at the end of a session, it doesn’t mean future strain won’t happen. Mental exhaustion can make it hard to admit when you need rest. Make sure you have enough time between sessions for recovery.

Monitor your body’s signs of an overload. These can be delayed muscle soreness, joint pain, fatigue or general tiredness. Learn to read these signs and adjust your training. This will help you avoid back pain.

Treatment Strategies

Treatment strategies for athletes with back pain differ in severity and location of the injury. Physical therapy exercises, such as postural exercises, stretching, and strengthening, may be of help to lessen pain and let athletes go back to their activities without worsening the injury. Massage, hot/cold therapy, and electrical stimulation might be needed if the symptoms stay. Core exercises and psychotherapy could be a necessity to help athletes learn how to handle the pain from back injuries.

Let’s have a glance at the various treatment strategies for athletes with back pain:


Rest is an essential part of any lower back pain treatment. It can help reduce inflammation and aid healing of injured tissues. During the first few days to weeks after the initial injury, it’s recommended to limit activities like running, strenuous physical activities, or lifting objects.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you may have to rest in bed. When you do, try lying on your side with a pillow between your legs; this may ease tightness or cramping in the lower back muscles. Avoid lying on your back when in pain; this can put pressure on sensitive joints between vertebrae and discs.

Alternating ice and heat can also help decrease muscular pain and tension related to PMR. For acute injuries, apply cold therapy (ice packs) 4 times daily for 10-20 minutes. For chronic PMR lasting several weeks or more, alternate heating pads and cold compressions 1-2 times per day. OTC anti-inflammatory medications taken twice daily with meals can also help with reducing PMR pain.

Ice and Heat Therapy

Ice therapy (cryotherapy) and heat therapy can help relieve back pain caused by sports or physical activity.

Apply ice or cold pack for 15-20 minutes every hour to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. Be careful not to apply too much cold as it can cause tissue damage. A thin layer of fabric should be placed between skin and ice/cold pack.

Heat therapy helps increase circulation and relax tense muscles, resulting in decreased pain levels. Heat can be applied through heated packs or submerging the area into heated water. Be wary of heat as burns are possible if too much heat is used for too long on certain areas of skin. Do not use heat if inflammation is present.

Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

Stretching and strengthening exercises are important to help manage back pain in athletes. Stretching regularly will improve flexibility, while strengthening exercises will support weakened backs, reduce strain, and prevent future injury. To prevent or manage back pain, focus on exercises that strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles.

The type of stretch depends on an athlete’s pain level and movement range. Dynamic stretches can be done if there is no discomfort or movement limitation. But if there is moderate or severe pain and limited motion, static stretching is best, with a physiotherapist or personal trainer’s guidance.

Upper core stability exercises, like planks, reverse planks and push ups with single arm reach, should be used to strengthen the thoracic spine (upper back). This area is most prone to injury in athletes due to jumping and running/ sprinting.

Lower core stability exercises like glute bridges with lifted hips or bird dog movements can help reduce stress on the lower lumbar spine (lower back). Also, leg strengthening exercises using weights, like squats, lunges, or step ups should be done with correct technique, to prevent aggravating existing conditions.

Lastly, stretching exercises like quadriceps stretch, hip flexor stretch, kneeling piriformis stretch, hamstring stretch, lower back twist, standing twist, rocking cat cow can help with tightness related muscle strains in the lower body.

It’s important to exercise safely, with a professional’s guidance, to reduce injury risk and provide long term comfort from chronic conditions.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can help athletes reduce pain and discomfort caused by over-training and physical stress. It includes techniques such as Myofascial Release (MFR), Trigger Point Therapy (TPT) and Sports Massage.

MFR is a type of massage that releases body restrictions, reducing pain and improving mobility. It involves deep massaging of fascia – the connective tissue – to free adhesions or fibrosis.

TPT is a localized approach targeting spots in muscles where the discomfort originates from. Pressure is applied for a few seconds until the patient notices a change, followed by gentle stretches.

Sports Massage reduces muscle tension and improves performance in activities like running and cycling. The massage therapist focuses on pressure points depending on the athlete’s condition, and works with them on rehab exercises to maintain flexibility.


To sum up, with the right prep and treatment, the pain from sports can be eased. Technique and training are key for good muscle health. Doing core exercises and activities that put less stress on the lower back can help. PMR is a non-invasive way to ease muscle tension in the lower back. The heat from PMR helps relax muscles, which can help reduce discomfort from an injury. Before trying PMR, it’s best to check with your doctor or physical therapist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What causes back pain in athletes?
A: Back pain in athletes can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor posture, strained muscles, disc herniation, or degenerative conditions like arthritis.

Q: Can back pain be prevented in athletes?
A: Yes, back pain can be prevented in athletes by maintaining proper form during exercises, stretching before and after workouts, and using proper equipment that offer ample support to the back.

Q: What are some effective treatments for back pain in athletes?
A: Some common treatments for back pain in athletes include physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and rest.

Q: How long does it take for back pain to heal?
A: The duration of back pain healing varies depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases can heal within a few days, while more severe cases may take weeks to months to heal completely.

Q: Can athletes continue to train while suffering from back pain?
A: In most cases, athletes are advised to avoid training or participating in sports that aggravate their back pain until the pain has subsided. Continuing to train can make the injury worse and prolong the healing process.

Q: Can PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) help with back pain in athletes?
A: Yes, PMR can be an effective technique to help relieve back pain in athletes. It involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups to alleviate tension and promote relaxation.

the back recovery program by alex larsson
Jane Smith is a natural health enthusiast on a mission to uncover effective methods for achieving pain-free living. Through her personal journey with chronic back pain, she has become well-versed in holistic approaches such as yoga, Pilates, and essential oils.

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