Whether it’s a brisk walk, a rousing three-on-three basketball matchup with your buddies or a school softball game, physical activity is essential. But before you engage, take a minute to protect yourself, says Henry Ford Macomb orthopedic surgeon Vinay Pampati, DO. The right warm-up and gear can ensure you continue to enjoy your favorite physical activities. Inadequate prep, though, could leave you injured and out for months — a real bummer in the Michigan summer.
Before your workout
“Get your blood flowing with a 10-minute walk or light jog, then do 10 to 20 minutes of stretching,” Dr. Pampati advises.
Gentle, gradual stretching increases blood flow and lengthens muscles, reducing the risk for strain or injury. On a tight timeline? Dr. Pampati suggests taking a few minutes throughout the day to stretch and keep your muscles warm and limber — that can shorten the needed warm-up time before your physical activity.
After your workout
Stretch a few minutes after your workout, too. It will improve flexibility and help prevent the post-workout muscle soreness that could limit your exercise the next day.
Don’t forget to rest
“Athletes with high consecutive days of training have more injuries,” Dr. Pampati says. “Some athletes think the more they train, the better they'll play. This is a misconception. Rest is a critical component of proper training. It can make you stronger and prevent injuries of overuse and fatigue.”
Pain? No gain
If you’re experiencing pain, pay attention, Dr. Pampati adds. That’s a warning sign from your body. If there is no swelling, ice and downtime will usually heal a mild strain or injury. If it hasn’t improved after a couple weeks, see your physician.
Maintain a healthy weight
For every pound you gain, you increase the load on your joints by four pounds. Over time, this can lead to joint pain and eventually the inability to exercise. Don’t fall into that “catch-22.”
Injury prevention for the ages
Exercise is necessary at every age, but how to maintain optimal fitness and stay healthy changes through our lifetime.
“Children’s growth plates are still open, so repetitive motions like throwing can do a lot of damage to joints,” Dr. Pampati notes. “Playing one sport all year – especially baseball – is not a good thing for children’s bodies.”
- Make sure you have the right gear, including helmets and pads.
- Take time to warm up and cool down.
- Follow the rules and be considerate of other players.
- If you’re hurt, rest. If you keep playing when you’ve been injured, the injury can get worse.
Bigger kids mean bigger games. Some injuries – like getting hit in the knee – can’t be prevented. To prevent other types of injuries or keep the ones you have from becoming worse, Dr. Pampati advises core strengthening exercises, like sit-ups, and attention to proper mechanics and correct form.
Team pressure, peer pressure and scholarship pressure all make it increasingly difficult for injured teens to take themselves out of the game, so parents and coaches need to step in.
“Look at the athlete’s face,” Dr. Pampati advises. “If he or she is wincing, it’s time to stop. Parents know their children and can tell when it’s time.”
20s and 30s
“In our 20s, we’re usually pretty active, although students going to graduate school may be busy and not watching their diet or exercise regimen,” says Dr. Pampati. “As we reach our 30s, we may be more likely to gain weight and become sedentary. Make an effort to stay active. If you’re going to work out, don’t just do it once a month. Be consistent.”
40 and up
This is “weekend warrior” territory, meeting work and family obligations all week long, then heading out for the occasional Saturday pickup game with friends.
“These folks are especially injury-prone,” warns Dr. Pampati. “Achilles tendon ruptures are common, which can sideline you for months. Follow the appropriate conditioning program for your sport — don’t expect the sport itself to get you into shape.”
The Achy Eight: The eight most common sports injuries
- Ankle sprain: Ask your doctor or physical therapist for exercises to regain flexibility and strength.
- Achilles tendon tear or rupture: Especially common in middle age, this injury can occur during intense athletic activity. For mild pain, rest, stretching and over-the-counter pain medication can help. A rupture may require surgery, a cast or walking boot.
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear: Sudden cuts or stops can cause the ACL to strain or even tear away from the knee. If you suspect this injury, see your physician.
- Patellofemoral syndrome: Repetitive kneecap movement (from things like running, volleyball and basketball) can damage the tissue beneath. Switch to low-impact exercise for six weeks or so and exercise quadriceps.
- Groin pull: This is a strain to the inner thighs from pushing off in a side-to-side motion like skating or soccer. Compression, ice, and rest will help. See a physician if you notice excessive swelling.
- Hamstring strain: This is a muscle pull in the back of the thigh when it becomes over-stretched. Complete healing can take up to 12 months.
- Shin splints: Running can cause these sharp pains down the front of the shins. Rest, ice and over-the counter pain medication helps. Pain lasting longer than a month may indicate a stress fracture.
- Tennis elbow: Often noticed during golf or tennis swings, treatment involves resting until the pain subsides.