By Kym Burke(This article was published in the January 2008 edition of the American Chiropractic Association News.)

Today’s coaches expect young athletes to show up for training ready to run fast, jump high, throw accurately and remain injury free. It is well documented, however, that the number of injuries to young athletes, particularly their low backs, knees and shoulders, is on the rise.

A part of the reason is that games of tag and backyard baseball have been replaced by video games, TV and surfing the Internet. Studies show that children between the ages of 10 and 12, for instance, are spending up to 6 hours per day in front of the television and/or computer. The price tag for this sedentary lifestyle is very high. Not only are our nation’s children at greater risk of becoming obese and developing chronic disease, but they are also at risk of failing to develop basic motor skills, which are necessary for athletics and competitive sports.

As health professionals, doctors of chiropractic can help prepare these athletes for the demands of sport. The purpose of this article is to stimulate your thinking as a movement specialist—to help our young athletes move better.

Improving Lumbopelvic Stability
One of the more typical mechanisms of injury to the low back is poor lumbopelvic stabilization. It is not uncommon to see high school linebackers, for instance, present with pars defect or spondylolisthesis. Simply observing their static and dynamic posture reveals the classic excessive anterior pelvic tilt caused by hyperactive hip flexors and underactive lumbopelvic stabilizers. If this motor pattern is allowed to continue, the brain begins to think it is the hip flexors’ job to manage the position of the pelvis in relation to the spine, and, therefore, the deep abdominals “turn off.” Re-educating the muscles methodically by first addressing the hyper/hypotonic muscles statically, then dynamically and, finally, functionally will set the athletes up for success.

A half-kneeling stretch with a chop down is an easy static stretch that can be performed multiple times per day. Adding the chop down activates the deep spinal stabilizers, encouraging a neutral spine. A more dynamic version of this same stretch would include an ankle rock and arm drive. A more functional exercise addressing the length of the hip flexor and reactive strength of the core would be a posterior reach performed either on two legs or, ideally, one. To reactively strengthen the muscles above the pelvis, a wood chop will engage the abdominals so that the athlete will drop into a perfect squat stance, hinging subtly at the hips, decelerating with the gluteals/hamstrings, while maintaining a neutral spine.

Notice that none of these exercises for the low back are performed on the floor. Floor work is appropriate in rehab or in the early stages of motor learning as a means of immediate biofeedback. Let’s keep in mind, though, that since the majority of sports are played on the feet, these athletes need to learn how to control the position of their spine and pelvis when their bones are unsupported by the floor or a bench.

As we are striving to improve the effectiveness of the core musculature with lumbopelvic stabilization, we are also building an effective routing system. An athlete with a solid core utilizes ground reaction force most effectively, conserving his or her energy. When well-trained athletes plant their feet as they are about to cut and sprint up the court or field, they are able to efficiently decelerate, change direction and accelerate.

In addition, educating the athletes on the importance of maintaining a neutral spine during most of their training on and off the court or field can prevent much of the potential damage to a susceptible spine. According to Jeanne Markusic, clinical specialist in physical therapy from the Cleveland Clinic, many spine problems are preventable because they result from poor posture and body mechanics, which subject the spine to abnormal stresses. Abnormal stress over time can lead to structural changes in the spine, including degeneration of discs and joints, lengthening or shortening of the supportive ligaments and muscles, and wear and tear of cartilage. All of these structural changes can lead to pain. However, there are many things that your patients can do each day to minimize current spine pain and prevent future episodes. Neutral spine needs to become their new static and dynamic posture. Encourage them to move like athletes even while walking the hallways of school.

Next month: Minimizing ACL Injuries

Kym Burke, a certified personal trainer and health and fitness instructor, is the co-owner of One on One, Fitness Consultants Inc. ( Established in 1985, One on One provides customized fitness training programs, from post-rehabilitation to enhanced sport performance.

To view a five-minute video demonstrating the exercises described in the article, go to and search for “Preventing Injuries with Youth Athletic Readiness Training.”

View this article on the ACA website.