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Prevalence and risk factors for back pain in sports: a systematic review with meta-analysis


Objectives We aimed to determine the prevalence of low back pain (LBP) in sport, and what risk factors were associated with LBP in athletes.

Design Systematic review with meta-analysis.

Data sources Literature searches from database inception to June 2019 in Medline, Embase, Cumulated Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Web of Science and Scopus, supplemented by grey literature searching.

Eligibility criteria Studies evaluating prevalence of LBP in adult athletes across all sports.

Results Eighty-six studies were included (30 732, range 20–5958, participants), of which 45 were of ‘high’ quality. Definitions of LBP varied widely, and in 17 studies, no definition was provided. High-quality studies were pooled and the mean point prevalence across six studies was 42%; range 18%–80% (95% CI 27% to 58%, I2=97%). Lifetime prevalence across 13 studies was 63%; range 36%–88% (95% CI 51% to 74%, I2=99%). Twelve-month LBP prevalence from 22 studies was 51%; range 12%–94% (95% CI 41% to 61%, I2=98%). Comparison across sports was limited by participant numbers, study quality and methodologies, and varying LBP definitions. Risk factors for LBP included history of a previous episode with a pooled OR of 3.5; range 1.6–4.0 (95% CI 1.9 to 6.4). Statistically significant associations were reported for high training volume, periods of load increase and years of exposure to the sport.

Conclusion LBP in sport is common but estimates vary. Current evidence is insufficient to identify which sports are at highest risk. A previous episode of LBP, high training volume, periods of load increase and years of exposure are common risk factors.

  • athlete
  • epidemiology
  • lower back
  • lumbar spine
  • sport

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