When it comes to sports, there’s big pressure on players—even ones who’ve barely just learned to tie their laces—to be bold, play hard, and make bleacher fans proud.
But at what cost? How hard is training too hard? How can you tell when you’re crossing the line, setting yourself up for short- and long-term—maybe even lifelong—pain? Whether you coach a little league team or are gearing up to tackle your first 5K, read on. We’ve talked with sports medicine expert Dr. Mike Maloney on the basics of avoiding athletic injuries, no matter what your sport.
Scripts: When it comes to injury prevention, are there fundamentals that every athlete should perform religiously before training/competing?
Maloney: Recommendations vary dramatically by sport, so I want to point you to really terrific resource—the “Stop Sports Injuries” website, sponsored by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. It’s a goldmine for coaches, trainers and athletes alike, serving up guidelines tailored to your team’s type of play, the unique pitfalls you might meet, and suggested steps you might take to avoid them.
More broadly, though, are basics we all can stick to. Like a proper warm-up and gentle stretching to loosen muscles and get blood flowing. You should also be intentional about taking time to rest—perhaps exercising alternate muscle groups each day, giving your body adequate chance to rebuild and recover.
Investing in the right, properly fitted protective gear—such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, etc.), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups, eyewear—is important too. So is a supportive shoe, built for the stress inherent in your type of exercise. And of course, you can actively head off heat injury by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after practice or play, wearing light, breathable clothing, and avoiding outdoor practice during periods of high heat or humidity.
Scripts: How do you know when you’re working too hard?
Maloney: Pain. It’s the body’s built-in alarm system, letting us know to stop and slow down.
Unfortunately, all too often young athletes fear that speaking up about troublesome symptoms might cost them their prized place on the team. There’s heavy social and psychological pressure to “be tough,” hide their injuries, and play through the pain. But that only ultimately makes things worse, and in extreme cases, can damage joints for a lifetime. I’d urge any athlete to keep the big picture—not just the next game—in mind, letting the right coach or trainer know if they’re uncomfortable, are hurting, or sense that their range of mobility is restricted. It takes courage, but it’s essential to voice these concerns.
Scripts: Are there some key injuries that spell death to a sports career?
Again, it depends on the sport. But some of the most devastating injuries we see are torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments), a type of knee injury that can spell trouble (and the bench) for many young athletes—even leading to long-term disability from osteoarthritis (a painful joint condition). More than 50,000 debilitating ACL injuries occur annually in female athletes at the high school and college level. It can take between six to 12 months to return to a sport after ACL reconstruction; some sufferers may experience continuing knee symptoms that limit their participation.
Overuse injuries (in the form of stress fractures, shin splints, and tendonitis ) can develop when athletes boost the frequency, duration, intensity, or resistance of training too quickly—putting undue stress on a particular part of the body. Again, rest is really important. But sometime even that’s not enough; in more serious cases, treatment and medical intervention might be necessary.
Finally, concussions concern us. Research continues to evolve, most recently implicating repeated blows to the head with long-term brain trauma, and even dementia in later life. We can’t exaggerate the importance of protective helmets and gear.
Scripts: So, what’s the bottom line?
Maloney: I think the overarching message is to train smart, sticking with a conditioning program that emphasizes fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance. Remember, we have one body to age with. It’s so important that we respect it, listen to it. The power of proper nutrition, rest, and prudent training cannot be overstated.
Want To Learn More about Injury Prevention—From a Local Olympian?
On Saturday, March 23, Olympic pole vaulter Jenn Suhr, who brought home the gold medal from the Summer 2012 games in London, will be the featured speaker at a free URMC Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation seminar. A graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College who makes her home in Churchville, Suhr will sign autographs and share her Olympic experiences—and discuss the steps she takes personally to prevent injuries.
Dr. Michael D. Maloney, chief of URMC Sports Medicine and professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, will kick off the activities at 1 p.m. with a discussion about injury prevention and the proper steps that all athletes, whether middle and high school students or adults, should take to avoid injuries. Maloney’s medical practice is broad, including reconstructive surgery of the knee, shoulder, and elbow, and arthroscopy of the knee, shoulder, and elbow for patients of all ages in the Rochester region and beyond. He serves at team physician for the Rochester Red Wings, along with area college sports teams.
For more information on the free community event or to RSVP, please call (585) 275-8762 or e-mail email@example.com.
More about URMC Sports Medicine
URMC Sports Medicine, the only medical practice in the nine-county region dedicated solely to sports medicine, offers the latest in medical and surgical care to prevent, evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate injuries for both recreational and competitive athletes of all ages. Its physicians are fellowship-trained sports medicine primary care physicians and orthopaedic surgeons who work together with physical therapists and athletic trainers to give complete medical care. For an appointment, call 585-275-5321.