|With Chris Tremlett having missed the last two tests against India with a back spasm, I thought I'd write a little about the back injuries that a fast bowler can sustain.
The back injury with the worst stigma is stress fracture. The words send a chill through any fast bowler's spine, as a potentially career threatening injury.
Stress fractures happen when you over-extend your low back on a regular basis. They affect part of the vertebra known as the pars interarticularis. You have two pars on each vertebra, and usually a stress fracture will only affect one. It is most common for this to be the same side as the lead leg (left side if a right arm bowler) because of the load transmitted when this leg impacts the ground, as well as a tendency for most fast bowlers to flex slightly to the side rather than lean straight back on delivery.
The most common age for stress fractures is between 18 and 24. This is when cricketers begin taking on the full load of adult cricket, but they are still skeletally immature. Because the spine is one of the last places in the body to finish growing, it is one of the most likely to suffer stress fracture.
The mechanism of action involves a tendency for vertebra in a hyper-extended spine to slip forward (Anterolisthesis). The vertebral body is being squeezed forward, while the muscles attaching to the posterior aspect of the vertebra try to hold it in place. The end result is a stretching of the weakest parts of the vertebra. This is usually what is meant by a stress fracture, and research published by the South African Medical Journal indicates that all high level fast bowlers will have some degree of this kind of injury by the age of 22.
Bone is very adaptive tissue, and will grow in response to stresses placed on it, and hence in most cases the stretching of a pars (Spondylolysis) does not cause a fracture as such. However, if left untreated the extent of this stretching of bone can be too great for your body to cope with, resulting in a break in the bone. This is what caused Graham Onions to have an 18 month career hiatus recently.
Premature degeneration is also a risk for fast bowlers. The abnormal stress of bowling causes early onset osteoarthritis (Spondylosis) in spinal facet joints. This can cause gradual stiffening and muscle aches, as well as nerve problems such as sciatica. Increased disc damage is a universal problem for fast bowlers, which can also lead to a shortened career.
These types of back injuries can not only impact on your game, but also affect you for the rest of your life.
Bowling is unnatural activity with huge physical demands and, therefore, requires significantly increased strength and flexibility.
The importance of having a coach look at your action and performing regular, intense core stability work outs cannot be emphasised enough for young fast bowlers, even if performing only once a week.