Calvin Spellmon, MD, a primary care and sports medicine physician at UAB Medicine, shares some general guidelines for avoiding injury while enjoying your athletic pastimes.
1. “Going from couch to competition is usually a bad idea.”
Dr. Spellmon notes that many injuries occur because an adult casually hops off the couch to engage in a rigorous sport, with no preparation or warmup. “Think about a game of flag football after Thanksgiving dinner, where kids and adults of all ages and abilities compete full speed on full stomachs,“ he says. “If you aren’t trained at all for the sport and you make a spur-of-the-moment decision to engage without the slightest preparation, the risk may not be worth the reward.” If you cannot resist the opportunity, Dr. Spellmon suggests at least warming up with dynamic stretching and light repetitions, while keeping your effort moderate.
2. Maintain general fitness: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”
If you maintain general fitness, you can better tolerate athletic activities. Dr. Spellmon says the physical activity components of fitness are strength training, steady-state cardio, stretching, and recovery – all practiced throughout your week. General fitness is also influenced by your consistency with healthy sleeping habits and a balanced diet. He encourages patients to engage in any active sport, regardless of age, but only if they prepare responsibly.
3. Add sport-specific training: “See yourself as an athlete.”
You won’t be much of a weekend warrior if you don’t prepare for your sport during the week—which also increases your risk of injury. Dr. Spellmon blames unfamiliar movements rather than age for most injuries. “It’s fairly predictable that volleyball players will have shoulder injuries, baseball players have elbow and shoulder issues, and basketball players injure their knees, Achilles tendons, and ankles,” he says. “Even for weekend warriors, sport-specific preparations such as practicing repetitions or doing exercises that mimic the stress of the weekend activity will enhance enjoyment and longevity.”
4. Take recovery seriously.
As you age, it takes longer to recover from activities. “Injuries often happen when you are not fully healed from other activities that act on the same joints and muscles as your sport,” Dr. Spellmon says. If you push-mowed the lawn on Friday afternoon, for example, you may not be recovered for tennis on Sunday morning.
Aside from rotating different types of activities, you can also practice good recovery habits, such as:
- Keeping a regular and adequate sleep schedule
- Limiting inflammation through stress-relief techniques and healthy eating
- Stretching and icing muscles regularly between activities
5. Listen to your body: “Sharp pain means stop.”
Normal soreness is nothing to be afraid of. According to Dr. Spellmon, delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is tenderness and stiffness in muscle tissue that often begins 1-3 days after an activity. “When you are sore, your body is telling you to take it easy for that time period,” he says. “Sharp or sudden pain during activity, however, is not okay — you should stop and seek care.”
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