By Dr. Andrew Pritikin, DPT
Bauerfeind Performance Center
No matter how hard you may try to avoid them, all sports have a risk of injury. And the more contact in a sport, the greater the risk of injury. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-contact sports don’t have injury risks at all. In fact, the most frequent injuries athletes and active adults suffer are due to overuse.
Some of the most common injuries occur to muscles, tendons (which connect our muscles to our bones) and ligaments (which connect our bones together). And the most frequent sports injuries are usually sprains (injuries to ligaments) and strains (injuries to the muscles) caused when an abnormal amount of stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones and muscle.
So as an active older adult, how do you avoid injury? While there’s no simple answer, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury no matter what sport or activity you choose.
Ways to Reduce Injuries
• Strengthen your muscles – and not just the muscles you “think” you use in your sport. A balanced conditioning program exercises the entire body, so the proper muscles, tendons and ligaments support every movement you make. For example, in Basketball, it’s not just the lower body muscles that are used; building a strong core and upper body will not only help you avoid injury, but also add more power and control to your game.
• Increase your flexibility. Stretching both before and after activity is vital to improving your flexibility and keeping your body in proper shape for activity. As with strength training, stretching should cover all parts of the body, with an emphasis on the muscle groups being used for your sport.
And be sure to relax while stretching to not only perform your stretches properly but also to be sure not to hurt yourself. While stretching, breathe in a normal, calm and relaxed fashion – holding your breath means you’re tense and that defeats the whole purpose of stretching, which is to relax your muscles and prepare them for activity.
• Use the proper technique. No matter what sport you play, if your body is not moving in the proper form, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk for an injury. Proper sports biomechanics are crucial to not only performing at a high level, but also to make sure the body is moving properly and all of the joints and muscles are in alignment. For example, if you adjusted your golf swing to keep from slicing, but it put tremendous strain on your lower back, the likelihood of developing a long-term injury is high. And is that really worth a few extra strokes?
• Wear the proper equipment – and make sure it fits you. If you’re involved in a contact sport, you should wear the appropriate and properly fitted protective gear, including upper and lower body pads, a helmet, mouthpiece, face shield and/or eyewear. And always be aware that protective gear will not protect you from performing more dangerous or risky activities.
• Take some time off. It’s smart to have at least one day off per week to allow the body time to recover. Many injuries occur when your body is tired and you’re continuing to push hard, so giving your ligaments, tendons and muscles the time to rest and recharge is crucial to avoiding injuries.
• Stop your activity if you feel pain. The idea of “playing through pain” may work for professional athletes, but it’s not so smart for weekend warriors and active adults. If you feel recurring pain in a joint area or muscle, take time off from your sport and let your body heal. Visit a professional who can provide an accurate analysis and diagnosis of what may be causing the pain, and offer solutions that are best suited for your body, activity level and performance goals.
About the Author: Dr. Andrew Pritikin is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), and works at the Bauerfeind Performance Center in Santa Monica, CA. Visit the Bauerfeind Performance Center or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive expert advice on injury prevention and recovery, active wellness and raising your potential.