It happens every year. The weather gets nice and the athletes come out of hibernation. You know that time when the tennis courts are no longer lakes and the running trails are more dirt than mud? Recreational basketball is picking up and multiple soccer clubs are gearing up for competition.
So, why has there been an influx of weekend warriors in the clinic these past couple of weeks? I mean, movement is what our body needs to survive, right? Most of the complaints are the normal knee, lower back, shoulder, etc., related to exercise. But, you used to be able to play an entire tournament without pain afterward and now just a couple of games have you tossing and turning all night long unable to find a comfortable position in bed. I want to discuss some of the reasons pain has become more prevalent in our lives when we try to be active, identify some of the problem areas and give some suggestions to help decrease your discomfort for the long haul.
First, let’s talk about our day. The average commute is somewhere around 30 minutes one way. When we get to work many people have desk jobs where there are approximately 7-8 hours of sitting and possibly a working lunch. There is another commute home, dinner and a couple of hours of television before bed. So, let’s think about this for a moment. Our entire week is spent in a flexed position, hunched over a keyboard or slouching in some chair. Then on the weekend we expect our muscles to react properly to the ballistic movements that we require of them for sport. The truth is, your muscles have memory and when you spend the majority of your time in one position they have a difficult time when asked to do something unfamiliar.
Injury occurs because our bodies are not prepared to do the tasks that are required of them and they give out at the weakest link (the tight muscle).
Now that I have your attention, I want to give a few pointers on how to work on avoiding injury altogether. As I implied earlier, movement is the key to life. There is quite a bit of truth in this as your body requires movement not only to be active, but to maintain a baseline of health and wellness. True, the commute may not be avoided, but your workday does not have to be your undoing. At least once an hour (or more) get out of your chair and take a walk. Go to the bathroom, walk a flight of stairs or do some generalized stretching that just gets your body moving. Lunchtime is supposed to be a break in the middle of the day. Use this time to get some exercise in so you are better able to handle the stresses of the latter part of the day. Be aware that small amounts of movement balanced throughout the work day will prepare your body for the activities you want to do later.
When it comes to the weekend undertakings, the flaw is often before the activity even begins. Many people show up to the court, trail, gym, etc. and just get to work without really warming up the muscles. Realize that injury is significantly more likely if your body is not ready for the stresses that you are about to put it through. There is a reason that football, baseball and basketball players show up to their respective arenas hours before the pre-game festivities start. Getting a muscle “warm” doesn’t take very much time and there is no downside, so there is really no reason not to do it. The best way to ensure that you are ready for sport specific movement is to perform the same motions that will be required of your body at about half speed. Take the basketball and dribble up and down the sideline, perform some arm circles with the tennis racket in hand, take a minute or two and do some calf stretches before a run with the goal to get your blood pumping enough to lubricate the system.
One final pointer is to never leave an exercise session without going through a cool down phase. It doesn’t have to be much, but the idea is to close the cycle of movement. If you start with minimal intensity, ramp up to high intensity in game and then completely drop off by getting in your car and driving home, your muscles will not know how to react. This is why we sometimes feel great during the game but way worse afterward or the following morning. Something as simple as a two minute cool down lap and some generalized stretches can save you a lot of pain and regret. By giving your body the chance to cool down you allow yourself the proper time to come to a resting state more naturally.
By now you should be just a little more informed on what it actually takes to be a healthier athlete. Since very few of us are actually being paid to exercise, it is of upmost importance that we do the best we can to keep our bodies moving as pain free as possible so we can continue to be successful in our everyday lives.