Let’s face it: we’re spoiled. In Southern California, our weather
lets us bike and swim, play baseball, volleyball, football, and soccer
pretty much year-round. Still, we’re more likely to be in the water,
on the trail or on the field during the summer months—until a sports
injury puts us on the sidelines. That’s when
Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s orthopedics specialists and physical
therapists can get us back in the game, even though they’d much rather keep
us healthy and off the bench to begin with. A few simple guidelines can
help reduce sports injuries and minimize their impact when they do happen.
The keys to prevention? Simple: warm up, and don’t overdo it. Muscles
that aren’t loosened up and ready for intense activity are much
to react badly to a pull, twist or stretch. Warming up promotes blood flow
and circulation, says
Nicholas Silvino, MD, a sports medicine specialist and knee and shoulder surgeon with Torrance
Memorial’s South Bay orthopedics clinic. Warming up can help athletes
prepare mentally too, increasing
their focus and concentration. Good preparation should include a dynamic
warm-up—think jumping jacks, or any active exercise performed at
an easy pace, and stretching areas that tend to be tight. Work into a
light sweat, advises Richard Shen, DPT, the clinic’s lead physical
therapist. “Always warm up the muscles and the joints.”
Beyond warming up before each game, Dr. Silvino suggests a “prolonged
warm-up” of six to eight weeks before tackling a sport—slowly
ramping up, rather than suddenly subjecting the body to the rigors of
a new activity. “Shifting quickly from a sedentary lifestyle to
an active, sports-intensive routine is a leading cause of sports injuries,”
he says. People can, and should, take advantage of Southern California’s
mild climate to remain active, but not by doing the same thing all year
long. That can lead to over- use injuries. For example, rather than hiking
to train for a long hike, use the elliptical first, and then add in shorter
hikes. Training this way, with similar activities, reduces the risk of
over-use injuries. Dr. Silvino recommends an off-season training program
focusing on cardiovascular activity and core performance. “Everything
you do is based on a solid core,” he notes.
Cross-training helps too, enabling athletes to maintain their cardiovascular
fitness without exerting the same muscles and tendons over and over. Varying
sports and exercise routines is always a good idea but especially for
those in their late 30s and older, says Dr. Silvino. And of course good
nutrition, sufficient sleep and plenty of hydration help athletes reach
peak performance and minimize the risk of injury.
Once we’ve trained, warmed up and hydrated, we still need to be careful
not to overdo it. “You shouldn’t be always sore,” warns
Dr. Shen. “If your body is always sore after exercising, that’s
a sign that you’re overdoing it.”
“Muscles and joints work together,” says
Todd Shrader, MD, of Torrance Orthropaedic & Sports Medicine Group, “and a muscle
(or muscle group) that’s not working well can hurt a joint. Likewise,
a joint that’s not working well may cause the body to try to compensate
with the surrounding muscles, placing them under strain. Either way, a
small problem can lead to a larger injury if left untreated.” Often
the solution is as simple as giving the body a rest or, again, cross-training.
If the same sport or activity is causing pain, take a break for a few
weeks and do something else, added Dr. Shen. In Southern California, there’s
no shortage of sports to try, any time of year.
Common Sports-Related Orthopedic Injuries
No surprise here: Knee injuries are common to almost every sport—the
result of repetitive overuse, lateral (side- to-side) motion, pivoting,
twisting the knee or a bad step.
Meniscus tears— tears of the cartilage cushioning the knee—may be minor or
more serious, requiring outpatient surgery.
Ligament bruising or tears may be self-healing with physical therapy.
Patellar tracking disorder—the kneecap shifting out of place—is another common source
of knee pain, often caused by a muscle imbalance in quadriceps (thigh
muscles). Fortunately, this condition can be corrected with physical therapy
to strengthen the muscles.
Swimmers, tennis players and volleyball players can find they’ve
overused their shoulder muscles, causing a
shoulder impingement, as the rotator cuff tendon becomes pinched. Baseball players are famously prone to
rotator cuff tears, as well as tears of the labrum, the cup-shaped rim of cartilage lining
the shoulder’s ball and socket joint. If you get a shoulder injury,
rest for a few days and avoid lifting anything higher than your shoulders.
Take an anti- inflammatory such as ibuprofen; a doctor may suggest steroids
to take down the inflammation.
Wrists and Ankles
Wrist injuries from overuse are another hazard for gardeners, while
ankle sprains can occur when anyone happens to plant a foot wrong—all too common
when running for the end zone, dodging the defense to make a lay-up shot
or hiking on an uneven trail. Both respond well to R.I.C.E.: rest, ice,
compression, elevation. Apply ice within 48 hours of the injury and don’t
leave on for more than 20 minutes. Keep the injured ankle or wrist at
heart level to reduce throbbing.
Bursae are small cushions between bones and soft tissues that reduce friction.
Tendons constantly moving over a bursa in the hip can cause
bursitis, an inflammation that’s common among runners, basketball players
and other athletes. Bursitis responds best to rest, ice and anti- inflammatory
medications. A doctor may prescribe steroids to treat the inflammation,
and physical therapy is an effective option as well.
Back and Neck
Bent over the handlebars, bicyclists are prone to neck and lower back injuries—typically mild
disc herniation. Herniation and mild
spinal stenosis—narrowing of the channel in the spine, putting pressure on the spinal
cord and nerves—can afflict golfers too, as well as gardeners, who
spend time lifting heavy bags, or stooping. Interestingly enough, one
of the best ways to manage back and neck pain is to keep moving. Mild
walking will keep the muscles strong and fluid. And it’s important
to keep your core strong by doing exercises that work the back, abdominals,
hips and pelvis, and practice good posture.