With temperatures warming and recreational athletes coming out of hibernation, sports medicine physicians are treating more sprains, strains, fractures, tendonitis and other injuries.
"We see it every spring," said orthopaedic surgeon Pietro Tonino, MD, director of Sports Medicine at Loyola University Health System. "Athletes who haven't been active all winter suddenly return to action without proper training and conditioning and wind up hurting themselves needlessly."
More than 3.7 million people go to the Emergency Room each year for sports-related injuries and another 3.5 million receive outpatient care. In athletes older than 25, recreational sports such as golf and racquet sports account for 2.1 injuries per 1,000 people. Exercising, including running and walking, accounts for 1.9 injuries per 1,000 people, according to the STOP Sports Injuries campaign. (The campaign was initiated by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.)
Recreational athletes can suffer acute injuries, such as wrist fractures, ankle sprains and shoulder dislocations, and overuse injuries, such as tennis elbow, swimmer's shoulder, runner's knee and shin splints.
"Overuse injuries typically occur when athletes try to do too much, too quickly," Tonino said. "The old training rule of 'no pain, no gain' is a recipe for injuries."
Ideally, an athlete should remain active and do conditioning exercises year-round. "An athlete who has spent the winter on the couch should return to action gradually, taking 4 to 6 weeks before going 100 percent," Tonino said.
Other risk factors for injuries include bad weather or field conditions, incorrect equipment, prior injuries and underlying conditions that predispose an athlete to injury, such as bowed legs or high foot arches. Women are more prone to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries.
Tonino endorses these safe-exercise tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
Use proper equipment. Replace worn athletic shoes and wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes.
A fitness program should include cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility exercises.
Warm up and stretch before exercise, and make cooling down the final phase of your exercise routine.
Drink enough water to prevent dehydration.
Take days off from exercise and rest when tired.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons