Many Rugby Players suffer back pain to some degree within their playing career. For you it may be very occasional stiffness from game to game but for others it can be severely debilitating and stop them playing for many months.

Causes of back pain

The pain most players experience in back pain stems from the trapping or compressing of the nerve. This can send pain both locally to the area or further down the nerve itself, e.g. sciatica giving pain in the back of the leg. This type of pain stems from postural misalignments. The spine can become twisted which then creates pain from the pressure on the nerve. The joints may also become compressed from the spine being pulled away from ideal posture. This happens as the body adapts to our prolonged daily postures, e.g. sitting at a desk all day or poor sleeping posture. and of course from the impacts of playing rugby. Inflammation of the muscles or joints around the spine will also create this type of pain..

Pain will also exhibit itself when the muscles around the spine go into spasm and/or certain areas of the muscles suffer low blood flow. This tightening of the muscles in and around the back creates pain on touching and on movements as well as restrictions within the muscle which then create new pain from other areas of the body compensating during rugby. Muscles go into spasm as a protection to protect the body from pain.

An unnoticed element of pain can be from the internal viscera (organs). Your organs do not feel pain directly, instead the body radiates pain out into the other systems of the body such as the muscles, e.g. during a heart attack your left arm hurts and not your heart. Back pain can occur from the organs being irritated especially the digestive system. This is why treating back pain without nutrition often proves futile. Factors that affect the organs includes food eaten and alcohol as well as organ alignment. These will influence the level of pain experienced.

Treatments of back pain

The goal in treating back pain is to look to establish function across the entire body. Treating just the spot of the pain will often leave the underlying reasons of pain untreated. When focusing on the restoration of the body and thus elimination of the pain you should consider the points below. Though there is a long list of factors to address they can all be covered within a session as many rehab techniques work on more than one facet:

Ankle/foot function and mobility – The toe flexor muscle becomes short and weak and therefore destabilizes the foot and the rest of the kinetic chain.

Decompressing the ankle joints – When the joint is compressed (slightly misaligned) it can cause the sacrum to become locked (and vice versa) which can create back pain.

Removing anterior tilt – The majority of back pain sufferers have an anterior tilt (The front of your pelvis is lower than the back). This compresses the facets joints and narrows the channels for the nerve to pass through. To remove this you can work on releasing the thighs (and whole fascial front line) while also improving the glute muscles.

Glute activation (buttock) – These muscles often becoming sleeping muscles and therefore unable to prevent anterior tilt or support the spine and sacrum during movement. When asleep you will often use your back muscles to extend your leg (e.g. walk). This creates more back pain.
Glute strengthening – Once awake these muscles are often weak. Through strengthening them you will increase the support for the spine and reduce further anterior tilt.

Sacral decompression – A Locked sacrum will causes inefficient movement and force the rest of the spine to adapt to make up for the lack of flexibility. This can often result in twisting of the lower spine and therefore pain.

Core activation – The core musculature supports and protects the spine. A fully functioning core includes correct breathing patterns, transverse abdominal activation and the correct firing sequence. These muscles often becoming sleeping muscles as are related to eating bad foods, e.g. sensitive foods.

Upper spinal rotation – A loss of rotational ability around the upper spine will force the lower spine to pick up the shortfall. This results in pain caused from lower back twisting and misalignment.

Massage for increased oxygen flow – Pain can be caused simply from having areas of the muscle without adequate blood flow. Massage will clear the tissues and lymph system therefore reducing pain.

Nutrition and digestion – An unhappy digestive system has the potential to produce pain directly in the spine and also as a consequence of switching off other muscles, e.g. core etc. therefore improving your diet will reduce your pain.

A simple Rehab Example

An example back rehab plan within a rugby fitness training conditioning plan may look like –

  • Ankle mobility and stretching in all directions (pain free)
  • Thigh foam roller work
  • Thigh stretch
  • Glute foam roller work (using a tennis ball)
  • Glute activation plan
  • Stomach stretch (McKensie Press up)
  • Core activation exercises
  • Avoid foods that bloat my stomach.


For Rugby Fitness TrainingRugby Training and Rugby Fitness talk ensure you are subscribed to the newsletter here on Rugby Fitness Training