Low Back Injuries in Competitive CrossFit

Dr. Jon Roed Articles , , ,
Rory Z

CrossFit Games Athlete Rory Zambard

It’s that time of year again. The CrossFit community is gearing up for “the Open.” The CrossFit Games Open is a worldwide competition that takes place over a five week period.  Last year athletes from over 100 countries registered online to enter and complete a series of workouts. The workouts are timed, judged, and scored. Athletes are then ranked based on performance. Top performing athletes move on to regional competitions and from there to a worldwide event, the Reebok CrossFit Games. The athletes that qualify for the CrossFit Games are the best in the world. Most have sponsors and contracts. They are professional athletes. This is the sport of CrossFit.

Not every athlete is competitive, but most CrossFit gym’s encourage all their members (competitive and recreational) to compete. The Open tends to bring out the best in everyone. Over the five weeks of Open workouts, athletes have numerous opportunities to push and test their limits through a competitive and high intensity arena. The combination of competition, high intensity, and heavy weight can increases one’s risk for injury. One of our most vulnerable areas to such demands is the lumbar spine.

Last year, there were several high profile competitors who dropped out of the CrossFit Open because of lumbar spine injuries. A large number of those low back injuries were to the lumbar intervertebral discs. Here is a excerpt from an article written about CrossFit Games Athlete Rory Zambard:

Last summer, Zambard was dealing with two lumbar disc issues that had literally brought her to the ground. Just prior to regionals, she injured herself and was taking anti-inflammatory steroids to manage the pain. A week-and-a-half after regionals, she injured her back again. “I’ve been dealing with muscle spasms, nerve pain and [nerve] impingement issues,” she said. “It’s illuminating: When you can’t tie your shoes, brush your teeth or stand up to make breakfast, you have to listen to your body. You push so hard, but your body shuts down and makes you take notice… I’m on the mend and getting progressively better,” she said. “In a couple of months, I’ll be back on my feet again. An injury is a teaching tool, and if you listen it will teach you something. I’m turning this weakness into a strength and coming back faster and stronger than ever.”

Spinal Anatomy

Normal spine
To better help understand low back injuries, let us first take a look at the anatomy of the spine. At the core of the spinal anatomy is the spinal cord – a component of the Central Nervous System (CNS).

The spine’s primary function is protection of the spinal cord. The spinal column is comprised of:

  • Vertebrae
  • Intervertebral discs
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Muscles


Together, the bony vertebrae, intervertebral discs, ligaments, muscles and tendons protect your spinal cord by offering a stable platform.

The human spine is an incredibly strong structure capable of supporting massive amounts of weight. However, the human spine is not immune to injury.

Mode of Injury

The lumbar spine is extremely vulnerable to injury with segmental motion when under load. See a rounded deadlift or a butt wink in the bottom of a squat.

Common Low Back Injuries

In my sport-chiropractic practice at DSM Spine+Sport, low back injuries most commonly fall into one of three categories. Those three are as follows:

  1. Lumbar spine intervertebral disc injury
    1. Disc herniation
    2. Disc bulge
    3. Annular fissure
  2. Facet arthropathy
  3. Lumbar sprain/strain

Strategies to Avoid Injury

Build Stability in the Lumbar Spine

  1. 90/90 leg extensions
  2. Floor Bridges

Build Mobility in the Hips and Ankles

  1.  Couch Stretch
  2. Doorway Posterior Chain Mobilization

If the unfortunate does happen and you do sustain a low back injury, feel free to shoot me an email (drjon@dsmspinesport.com). I’m happy to help in anyway I can. Getting you back to doing what you love is my top priority.

About the author

Dr. Jon Roed
Dr. Jon Roed

Dr. Jon Roed is a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic who graduated from Northwestern Health Sciences University–College of Chiropractic in Minneapolis, MN. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer.

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