An Ounce of Prevention
As with many other aspects of life, preventing an injury is preferable to treating an injury.
“Remember the ‘FITT’ acronym, which stands for ‘frequency, intensity, type and time,’” says Dr. Lucas King. “Monitor how often you engage in an activity, how intense it is, what type of activity you’re doing and how long you do it.”
Avoid overtraining by easing into a new exercise program. “Work into it gradually,” says
Dr. Jennifer FitzPatrick. “Start out doing 15-minute sessions one week, and then maybe ramp up to 20 minutes the next week, and so on. The big problem is doing too much too soon. If you aren’t active and try to jump right into a 75-minute aerobics session, you’re going to get into trouble with injuries.”
And forget about being a weekend warrior, says Stephan Abraas, DPT, director of physical therapy at Parkview Medical Center.
“Don’t try to cram all your physical activity into the weekend,” says Dr. King. “Get a moderate amount of cardio work and weight training in over the course of the week. Get your body used to being active.”
A sports injury refers to any injury caused by repetitive use of a body part. Most commonly, sports injuries affect the body’s major joints. Runners tend to experience injuries in their knees, hips and ankles, while women who engage in upper-body activities such as tennis and golf see more injuries to elbows and shoulders.
“Tendinitis is probably the most common type of sports injury,” says Dr. Rickland Likes. “In particular, we see a lot of cases of inflammation in the patellar tendon [which connects the kneecap to the shinbone] and tendons in the inside of the foot.”
As you get older, you’re more likely to experience knee problems as well. The knee is a large, weight-bearing hinge joint that has less range of motion than a socket joint, such as the hip or shoulder.
“It’s related to the kneecap and how it fits into the groove in the leg bone,” says Dr. Robert Thomas. “Weight, conditioning and muscle strength all play into injury risk.”
In addition, women are more prone to knee problems due to the width of their pelvic girdle relative to men. Wider hips increase the angle of the hips to the knees, altering how weight is distributed on the knees and leaving them more vulnerable.
Despite all the precautions in the world, sports injuries can still happen. However, most overuse injuries are minor and easily treatable.
“Minor injuries such as strains and sprains can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, if you don’t have a medical condition that prevents you from taking them,” says Dr. Thomas. “Ice packs, applied several times a day, can also help keep the swelling down.”
Some sports injuries, however, will require medical attention. It might be time to see your doctor if an injury is painful enough to inhibit your daily activities, if there is numbness in the affected area or if the pain doesn’t go away within several days.
“Severity and duration of pain are always indicators of a more severe injury,” says Dr. Likes. “Swelling, a loss of feeling and decreased range of motion are also indicators that you might need a doctor to look at it.”
Above all, be patient if your body doesn’t immediately respond to a new activity the way you were hoping. As you age, getting into shape and recovering from injuries simply takes longer. But the rewards are well worth it in terms of your personal health and wellness.
“Exercise is extremely important to overall health,” says Dr. FitzPatrick. “It’s just a matter of being smart about it. You have to take common sense steps to prevent injuries, and if you do get hurt, know when it’s time to see your doctor.”