Not so long ago, only elite athletes had access to physicians specializing in Sports Medicine who helped them avoid or recover from injuries and maintain peak performance. Today, anyone can stay at the top of their game. In the last 15 years or so, Sports Medicine has emerged as a distinct field in healthcare, powered by a growing population of athletes of all ages and abilities who are determined to stay active and healthy for as long as possible.
Running parallel to the trend toward safe, lifelong activity is the advent of IT and social media, which has made it easy to find great information about sports, exercise, and everything you need to know about training, competing, and winning. There's even a great deal of good information online about how to prevent sports injuries.
Yet, patients continue to limp through our door with injuries that could have been avoided, and the consequences can be severe. Not only will they suffer for a few days, weeks or longer, they also run the risk of deconditioning during recovery, which can occur in far less time than it took to get in shape.
By far, the most preventable reason why athletes are sidelined is overuse injuries to muscles or joints from repetitive trauma. Think of long-distance runners, bicyclists, or rowers who use the same set of muscles and joints over and over. Or the enthusiastic new athlete who takes on too much, too soon. Or even those who are using the wrong technique, putting excessive and incorrect use on one joint or muscle. While overuse injuries can happen at any age, they are more likely to occur among middle-aged athletes and older who don't take into account the impact that age can have on their bodies.
If your overuse injury is from improper technique, it's best to get a lesson. For athletes who are new to a sport or exercise, pace yourself by gradually building up your level of activity. And for those who are dedicated to just one exercise, it's time to cross train. Give one area of your body a rest while continuing to exercise other areas.
It's important to allow your body to heal from an overuse injury; always call your physician if your pain does not improve. Good nutrition plays an important role in the lives of athletes of all ages. Older athletes may need additional Vitamin D, calcium, and extra protein to keep their bodies healthy enough to avoid joint, muscle and ligament injuries. For younger athletes, finding good information from coaches and others about the mechanics of the sport, especially when landing your feet, can also prevent injuries.
Strong core muscles — often called the body's powerhouse — are essential for safe, injury-free activity. These are the muscles in your pelvis, back, stomach and hips that work together to keep our bodies stable and improve balance. All physical activity depends on the core muscles, and the stronger they are, the less likely you are to suffer injuries when working out or playing sports. In fact, they are key to all daily activities.
Even great athletes sustain sports injuries because their core muscles were not strong enough to support their level of exercise. Look online for a core-strengthening regimen that appeals to you. Most have videos that will ensure you are using the proper technique. If you've been sedentary, check with your primary care physician to make sure this or any new physical activity is safe for you.
Our sports patients are great and we love to see them. But too often, their injuries could have been avoided. If you eat and rest well, pace yourself, know the proper mechanics of any sport or exercise, cross train, and condition your core muscles, chances are very good that you will stay active and healthy for years to come.
Mark Sprague, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon with Berkshire Orthopaedic Associates, and fellowship trained in Sports Medicine. Prior to moving to the Berkshires, he provided sideline medical expertise to the Boston Celtics and athletic teams at Tufts, Harvard, and Northeastern universities.