One of our readers recently asked us about experiencing back pain when bowling: “When I bat, I’m not experiencing any pain but, when I bowl, I do. So, for the past two months, I didn’t bowl, then yesterday I bowled, and it created a pain. I could feel a strip-like muscle in my left lower back giving me some intense pain and restricting my motion.”
The reader went on to say that the pain was chronic, coming and going depending on activity. The individual worried about having to give up bowling and asked for advice.
This reader is not the only one that suffers from back pain around the activity of bowling or cricket, which includes fast bowling. One bowler on Reddit wrote, “After bowling on Sunday, I went again on Tuesday and noticed pretty quickly that my lower back was pretty sore. I struggled to make it through three games on Tuesday (probably should have just stopped).”
Below, we explain how bowling can cause back pain, and give you suggestions for what you can do to fix the problem so that you don’t have to give up the sport.
4 Reasons Why Bowling May Result in Back Pain
For both experienced and amateur players, bowling — although a favorite sport among older generations and young people alike — poses a risk for a variety of conditions that may affect the back, including muscle strain, sprains, spasms and even spinal injuries.
When you’re throwing that heavy ball in American bowling, you’re going through the same repetitive motions repeatedly, including twisting maneuvers, all on a slippery surface. That can set you up for injury and pain.
Fast bowling when playing cricket requires a combination of bending backward together with a rotating and side-bending movement that, in time, can put excessive stress on the vertebrae in the lower back. You also need to generate some momentum and jump to deliver the ball from the highest possible point allowed for your height, which adds more of a load on your body.
Here are five reasons why either of these activities may result in back pain.
1. Improper Technique and Form
Bowling of both types involves some awkward body positions. The upper and lower parts of the body move in opposite directions at some point in the ball delivery. Your hand and arm are extended past the last movement, and your feet slide forward. If your mechanics are off even a little, you can hurt your back.
One of the most common problems with form in American bowling is leaning too far forward, allowing the shoulders to get ahead of the body and putting a strain on the lower back. Putting too much weight on the toes keeps the knees from bending as they should, resulting in a body that’s out of alignment.
Similar problems can occur in cricket bowling. It’s reported that a force eight to 10 times a person’s body weight is transmitted through the body in the bowling action and, with the repetitive action and long duration of some games, that can create overuse injuries — often stress fractures. So-called “mixed-action,” which involves moving the upper and lower body in opposite directions, can be particularly tough on the back.
Ask someone experienced to watch your form as you bowl so that you can correct any improper technique. American bowlers should be sure to keep the bowling hand under the ball and move the bowling arm straight out and back, releasing the ball when it’s in line with your ankle.
Cricket coaches should be able to pinpoint “mixed action” in fast bowlers, which causes twisting between the upper and lower body and help correct to a side-on or front-on technique that puts less strain on the lower back.
No matter what kind of activity you do, the muscles need to rest afterward. This is particularly true in both types of bowling as the muscles are significantly worked during the activity. If you love to bowl and you hop right back into the next day, you could be setting yourself up for back pain. Your muscles will be fatigued, and that will make you even more vulnerable to injury.
Give yourself time to recover between practices and games.
3. Lack of Physical Fitness or Muscle Strength
Many people lead busy lives and struggle to find time for leisure activities like bowling. Unfortunately, that may also mean that you lack the time to prepare your muscles for the activity properly.
When you lack the strength and conditioning you need for the sport you’re pursuing, you are at high risk of injury. It could be that your shoulders, arms and core muscles are not strong enough to put up with the repetitive strain.
If you bowl or play cricket frequently, take the time to strengthen and stabilize your back, shoulders, hips, knees, arms and core muscles. Check with a sports doctor or physical therapist for help. In addition, always stretch before playing (find examples below).
All sports require the use of quality equipment to prevent injury. One of the most common reasons American bowlers end up with sore backs is because they use a ball that’s too heavy for them.
There is a myth that the heavier the ball, the better the score. However, that’s not necessarily true, particularly if you struggle to control the heavier ball or if it throws your body out of alignment and causes injury.
Those slippery lanes and slippery shoes don’t help. They increase the risk of slips and falls, and poor-fitting shoes can make it worse.
As a general rule, physically fit men can use a 14- to 16-pound American bowling ball. Women and seniors do better with a 12- to 14-pounder. Those with injuries or sore backs may want to use one that’s 1 to 2 pounds lighter. To test if the ball is too heavy, hold it with both hands and extend the arms out in front of you. Hold for 5 seconds. If your hands, wrists, and arms start to tremble, the ball may be too heavy for you.
Also, make sure the ball fits your hand well. Having the gripping holes contoured for your fingers can make it feel better.
In both cricket and American bowling, make sure you have quality, well-fitting and supportive shoes with the correct traction. If you’re renting shoes, check the bottoms of them to be sure there’s sufficient traction on the bottom.
Treatment and Prevention for Bowling-related Lower Back Pain
If you’re suffering from back pain related to bowling, check with your doctor to be sure there isn’t a fracture or some other injury that needs to be tended to. An MRI can show muscle tears and other forms of muscle damage. Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) can also help pinpoint any nerves that may be damaged or involved in the injury.
We offer a program called “Fix My Back Pain“ that utilizes a technique called “Back Reshaping Method,” where your lower back is reshaped from a painful lower back to a pain-free lumbar spine. It also targets specific injuries, depending on their cause.
This program may or may not address your back pain. It depends on the type of back injury. If the pain is resistant to initial treatment, then the services of a spine specialist may be necessary to address your chronic and recurring pain permanently.
Remember, it’s not only about restoring your spine to be able to bowl again. There exists the real possibility of further degenerative changes to the surrounding spinal structures if it is not rehabilitated properly. Life after cricket or bowling suffering from chronic lower back pain is rarely worth it.
In addition to our program, you can also try these tips, stretches, and exercises for soothing lower back pain related to bowling:
- Do your best to use the right posture and technique
- Do workouts and exercises to strengthen your back and core muscles
- Consider wearing back support like a brace or wrap
- Always rest between practices and games
- Invest in a pair of quality shoes, and make sure your (American) bowling ball is not too heavy
- Stretch before playing (see the options below)
1. Overhead Stretch
Lift your arm over your head and bend it at the elbow so that the fingers tickle the back of your neck. With your free hand, grasp your elbow and pull it slightly, keeping it behind your head. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. For a further stretch while holding, tilt sideways at the waist to feel a stretch down the side. Repeat two or three times for each arm.
2. Wrist & Arm Stretch
Extend your arm straight out in front of you, hand palm down. With your other hand, grasp your fingers and lightly pull down until you feel a stretch along the forearm. Keep the arm straight. Hold for 10 seconds, then reverse and pull your fingers up and back. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat two or three times for each hand and arm.
3. Cross Stretches
Pull your arm horizontally across your chest until you feel a stretch in the shoulder. Keep the elbow straight. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat two or three times for each arm.
4. Side Lunge Stretch
With your body and feet facing forward, hands-on-hips, stand straight, then slowly tip your upper body (torso) to the right, while keeping your back straight. Go until you feel a stretch in your side. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. Do four or five complete stretches.
5. Quadriceps Stretch
Support yourself with one hand on the back of a chair if needed. Stand straight. Put your weight on one leg, then bend the other one back at the knee so you can grab hold of your ankle with your free hand. Pull the foot behind the body until you feel a stretch in the thigh. Hold 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do four or five stretches on each side.
6. Touch Your Toes
Stand straight, then lean forward slowly, with your fingers reaching for the floor. Keep your knees straight. Bend at the waist. Go as far as you can, then hold 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat three to four times.
7. Lying Knee Roll-over
Lie flat on your back on the floor. Stretch your arms out on either side as if you were flying. Bend your knees into your chest, then slowly let them fall over to one side while keeping your shoulders pressed to the floor. You should feel a stretch in the lower back. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do four or five complete stretches.
8. Hamstring Stretch
Stand with one foot on a chair or other elevated surface. Bend forward onto that leg slowly until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do three complete stretches.
9. Elbow-out Shoulder Stretch
Stand up straight and place one hand behind your back, with the knuckles on your lower back, the elbow pointing out. Then, reach across your body, grasp the elbow, and pull it forward gently. You should feel a stretch in the shoulder. Pull as far as you can, then hold 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Do three complete stretches.
10. Clasping Shoulder Stretch
Put your hands behind your back and let them rest at the level of your buttocks. Grasp one wrist with the other hand. Now, press your shoulders back at the same time as you lift your hands away from your buttocks. You should feel the stretch on both shoulders. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat twice more.