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Avoiding weekend warrior sports injuries

A basketball game on Saturday morning seemed like a great idea to get some much-needed exercise and work off stress. But on Sunday morning you couldn’t get out of bed: Pain had taken over your body.

If this sounds familiar, you may be a “weekend warrior”—someone too busy working during the week to make time for exercise. But overexerting yourself on the weekend to compensate for lack of weekly exercise can cause injury and pain—enough to sideline you from everyday activities.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can prepare your body to make your weekend sporting events an enjoyable part of your life instead of one big pain.

Battle scars

Most injuries occur when you’re out of shape or when you overexert yourself. Typical injuries include torn rotator cuffs (shoulders), backaches, tennis elbow, knee pain, stress fractures, sprained ankles, pulled hamstrings, head injuries and dislocated joints. Lack of conditioning and overexertion can also cause dehydration and even heart attacks.

A plan for all sports

Sports medicine professionals suggest you try the following tips before you tackle your activity:

Follow a balanced fitness program year-round. Get in shape to play your sport; don’t play your sport to get in shape. You need to condition at least three months before beginning your sport to build muscle, burn fat and increase stability and endurance. Exercise at least three times a week for 30–45 minutes and include aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching.

Always warm up, stretch, cool down and stretch again. Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up with jumping jacks, cycling or running in place for three to five minutes. Next, gently stretch the muscles in your legs, arms, shoulders and back. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, and never bounce. Toward the end of your activity, slow your speed to cool down gradually. Finish by stretching again to avoid muscle cramps.

Invest in good equipment. Wear proper shoes, arch supports, pads and protective gear specific to your sport.

Follow the 10 percent rule. Increase your activity level by only 10 percent a week. If you’re walking two miles a day this week, increase it to 2.2 miles next week—not five miles. The same rule applies for increasing weights.

Listen to your body. Change your activity level to accommodate your body when it tells you it’s had enough.

Don’t forget water and sunscreen. Drink at least one glass of water every 15 minutes and avoid alcohol. When outdoors, wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

Sport by sport

Each sport puts stress on different parts of the body. Hiring a trainer for one session to teach you the correct conditioning exercises specific to your sport may be money well spent.

Tennis, soccer, handball, basketball and football. Sudden twisting, turning, starting and stopping make these sports tough on your knees. Ask a trainer to show you exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles in your legs and around your knees. Aside from soccer, these sports also place stress on your shoulders’ rotator cuffs and your forearms, so learn exercises to strengthen all arm, shoulder and neck muscles as well.

Running. To prepare for running, ask a trainer to teach you appropriate leg-strengthening exercises. Also, replace running shoes for better shock absorption and stability every 500 miles. Avoid running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Run on flat surfaces, not uphill, which can aggravate your Achilles tendons.

Golf. Your golf swing requires exercises to develop strength and flexibility in your legs, back, abdomen, hips, shoulders and arms. Be sure you have full range of motion that doesn’t cause excessive stress on your muscles or joints before you pick up a golf club. And bend your knees when you lift that heavy bag of clubs.

Biking. Helmets are a must for all ages and can reduce serious injury by 85 percent. Keep the rhythm of your pedaling between 80 and 100 revolutions per minute while using a lower gear to minimize pressure in your knees. When stopping, use the back brake first to avoid sailing over the handlebars.

Skiing. Knee and leg-strengthening exercises build stability to prevent the most dreaded skiing injury—a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Have a certified ski technician check your skis, boots and bindings. Don’t ski beyond your ability level and always go with a fall to minimize injury. To avoid skier’s thumb (damage to the ligament between your thumb and index finger), don’t wrap the poles to your hands. This will let you drop the poles if you fall.

Softball and baseball. Getting hit by the ball causes the most injuries, so always wear protective gear, including a batting helmet when at the plate, waiting to take a turn at bat and running bases. Pitchers should also limit themselves to between 80 and 100 pitches a game to avoid overuse injuries of the shoulder.

‘Ouch!’ Know how to treat pain when it strikes you

Follow these guidelines if you’ve taken preventive measures but still end up with pain:

  • Don’t “work through” pain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
  • Treat a muscle or a joint injury for a small PRICE:
    Protect the injury from further damage by using a brace or crutches.
    Rest the injured area.
    Ice the painful area immediately after the injury.
    Compress the area with an elastic wrap or bandage.
    Elevate an injured limb above your heart to limit swelling.
  • Apply heat to relax a muscle spasm.
  • Go to bed early for a few days after an injury. Your body can heal itself best if it gets at least eight hours of sleep a night.

If ice and aspirin or acetaminophen don’t relieve your pain at rest or if you still have swelling the day after an injury, call your doctor for an evaluation.