Spring, injuries go together as athletes test warmer weather

Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport
With nicer and longer days just around the corner, you can count on at least a couple of things: throwing open windows to welcome fresh air and a dramatic increase in the number of sports-related injuries.

On top of many people getting outside and running, playing soccer, cycling and playing all kinds of sports for the first time since fall, people are going into them cold turkey, which makes the body incredibly susceptible to injury.

But many of those haphazard injuries can be prevented.

So as you start to train for the Country Music Marathon, the Powerman Duathlon, or just throw the football with the kids, several area doctors have a few recommendations for staying healthy as we all embark with gusto on the activities we haven't been able to do since last year.

Dr. Tom Bartsokas with the Bone & Joint Clinic in Franklin, Tenn., said the No. 1 reason people come to see him is "too much too soon."

Bartsokas has been a year-round runner for 30 years and understands recreational athletes' desire to get out and go 100 percent as soon as the weather gets nice.

But that's not the way to do it, he said.

"Recreational runners can have debilitating injuries," Bartsokas said. "As many as 60 percent of runners lose some running time to injuries each year. It doesn't have to be that way."

He says the key is to start slowly and don't increase your distance by more than 10 percent week to week. For those older than 40, he said recovery time isn't as quick, so allow time in between runs for the body to recover. He says as a guideline, runners older than 40 shouldn't race or train hard more than every 10 days.

Regardless of what the activity may be, Bartsokas says the best way to prevent injuries is to listen to your body. Recognize soreness as a sign and don't fight fatigue. It could be the body's way of saying "slow down."

Dr. Thomas O'Brien of Premier Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Franklin said that for all sports, people should implement a pre-conditioning program during the off-season.

"The most important thing to remember this time of year is to not go in cold turkey," O'Brien said. "Being unprepared will be what will cause an injury this time of year."

Mike Johnson of Brentwood is a long-distance cyclist who wants to continue to ride injury-free.

"I know the common things to do like stretching and cooling down, but I want to know more specific techniques and proper ways to do things because I had to quit running because of some repeated injuries caused by overuse," he said. "After two surgeries, several broken bones and constant lower back pain, my orthopedist told me I should give it up.

"I don't want that to happen with cycling."

Bartsokas said the lowest injury rates among competitive athletes are seen in triathletes. He credits this to their intense cross-training, which doesn't put repeated stress on any one part of the body.

"The way a triathlete trains stimulates different muscle groups in different ways," he said.

Those who may not be up to training for a triathlon still can benefit from that training philosophy by varying workouts to prevent overstrain in one area.

Another key component to sports-related injuries is treatment if they do happen. Not every swollen ankle and sore knee requires a visit to an orthopedist.

O'Brien has a few simple recommendations: Before making a trip to the doctor, ice what hurts and take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, he said. Generally the recommended dosages can safely be doubled to equal prescription strength.

"Ice is generally better for ligament and tendon injuries," he said. "Heat is better for muscle injuries. A sore back is a good example of a muscle-type injury and heat would be better for that. A sore elbow from playing tennis or a sprained ankle are associated with tendons and ligaments and are better helped with ice."

Bartsokas added that a person should go easy with stretching an injured body part, cross-train other body parts when experiencing pain and supplement the diet with extra vitamins C and E and beta carotine, which are antioxidants that help the rate and magnitude of the healing process. He also says injuries can be healed more quickly by adding protein to the diet and getting a massage.

Are you a triathlete? Golfer? Runner? Cyclist? No matter what your sport is, you can find and register online for an event in your area!

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