Question of the Week
August 16, 2004


The Olympics are here!

"As the summer Olympics get underway, many of us will be inspired to run, jump, bike and swim just like our Olympic heroes. But some weekend athletes can exercise themselves into sports-related injuries. Dr. Ed Wojtys, sports medicine director of MedSport at the University of Michigan Health System, offers advice to wanna-be Olympians and weekend athletes. He notes there is always an increase in sports activities--and subsequent sports injuries--in the summer, but the Olympics are a stimulus for many to relive athletic careers or act out future aspirations, leading people of all ages to push beyond their normal physical limits. 'The most common sports-related injuries we see are muscle strains, ligament sprains or early osteoarthritis aggravated by injuries,' says Wojtys. 'We consider all of these to be overuse-related injuries.'"

Exercise is good.
The renewed interest in sports that the Olympics brings is good. The desire that motivates athletes to do their best is good.

"People who haven't been exercising as much as they'd like can still get some good exercise this summer while avoiding overuse injuries. Keep in mind your age and level of conditioning so that you are realistic about what you are capable of doing, Wojtys cautions."

Whether an athlete is 25 years-old and has been training for two decades, 15 years-old and has just begun a high school sports, or 5 years-old and already dreaming of breaking the new records just set by Michael Phelps, all athletes--and prospective athletes--need to remember that the most enjoyable athletic careers are those that are not plagued by injuries.

"The first rule here is the most important one: the best way to deal with sports injuries is to prevent them. Prevention includes knowing the rules of the game you're playing, using the proper equipment, and playing safe."

Many injuries are avoidable.

"Although injuries from sports and recreational activities are not uncommon, getting hurt doesn't have to happen. For teens, the best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Sports injury prevention can help to keep everyone on the court or playing field. Read on to learn the basics of sports and exercise safety....

"Did you know that playing tennis with a badly strung (too loose or too tight) racquet while wearing worn-out shoes can be just as dangerous as playing football without shoulder pads? Using the wrong - or improperly fitted - equipment is a major reason why teens get injured."

Think about your sport. Think about the equipment specific to your sport. What do you need to do to ensure that the equipment you are using is at its best? Think about your body from head to toe. What do you need to do to ensure that your body will be well protected, yet able to move well and play well with the other athletes?

"Start with helmets: they are important for sports such as football, hockey, baseball, softball, biking, skateboarding, and in-line skating, to name just a few....
Eye protection also is a must for many sports... Mouth guards can protect your mouth, teeth, and tongue...
Wrist, knee, and elbow guards are important gear, too... Some guys may also need to wear a protective cup...
And last but not least, the right footwear can keep you from tripping and falling...

"Not only is the right kind of equipment important, so is the right fit. If you don't know if your equipment fits properly, check with a parent, coach, or gym teacher to make sure you have the right size and that you're wearing it correctly. Many sporting goods stores can also help you find the right fit. The bottom line: wearing the right equipment with the right fit dramatically decreases your chances of getting hurt."

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons offer advice for injury prevention at:
(Scroll down to find information specific to your sport, or area of interest.)

You have read all the articles. You have the right equipment. You have the right protective gear. You play safely. While you can greatly reduce your risk of injury, there is still the chance that you might get hurt...

"Sports injuries are on the rise in U.S. children and teen-agers. Each year more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries requiring medical treatment occur in children under age 15. Today, as more and more children and adolescents participate in the same sport year-round, many young athletes are developing overuse injuries. In fact, overuse is responsible for about half of the sports injuries that happen to middle school and high school students. Overuse injuries usually occur over time with prolonged, repeated motion or impact. They range from chronic muscle strains and tendinitis to stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone). 'Pediatricians certainly are seeing overuse injuries more often,' says Douglas Gregory, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician specializing in sports medicine. As reasons for the increase, Dr. Gregory cites more children playing competitive and year-round sports as well as training too intensely."

You know that you have to train hard to be your best, and nobody wants to be a wimp about an injury, especially if there is a big game or an important meet coming up, right?

"Dr. Washington also blames insufficient rest after an injury for some overuse injuries. 'It's not uncommon for an injured child or teenager to resume sports activity too soon, because the coach says, 'Play through your pain."' It is important to take care of injuries as soon as they happen. A physician should evaluate any sports injury, recommends Dr. Gregory. Although overuse injuries are painful, most improve with rest. 'Ignoring the problem may turn it into a more serious injury,' he says. 'With proper treatment and rest, the athlete usually can continue participating through the season.'"

"Ignoring the problem may turn it into a more serious injury..."

Just like anyone else, your body wants you to pay attention to what it is trying to tell you. It may be trying to tell you that there is an injury that needs some attention. It may be straining from a heat-related illness as you continue to work hard in the hot sun. Some days it may seem easier to ignore the symptoms your body is using to communicate than to tell your coach and your friends how you are feeling, but that may not be what's best for you and your health.

"Playing rigorous sports in the heat requires close monitoring of both body and weather conditions. Heat injuries are always dangerous and can be fatal. Children perspire less than adults and require a higher core body temperature to trigger sweating. Heat-related illnesses include dehydration (deficit in body fluids), heat exhaustion (nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin, heavy perspiration, normal or low body temperature, weak pulse, dilated pupils, disorientation, fainting spells), and heat stroke (headache, dizziness, confusion, and hot dry skin, possibly leading to vascular collapse, coma, and death). These injuries can be prevented.... Recognize the dangers of playing in the heat.... Respond quickly if heat-related injuries occur.... Schedule regular fluid breaks during practice and games.... Drinking water is the best choice; others include fruit juices and sports drinks.... Kids need to drink 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes, plus more after playing.... Make player substitutions more frequently in the heat.... Wear light-colored, 'breathable' clothing, and wide-brimmed hats... Use misting water sprays on the body to keep cool."

Questions of the Week:
What preventative measures do you need to take in order to reduce your chances of getting hurt when playing sports, or taking part in any sort of physical activity? What do you need to know about the equipment you are using in order to keep it at its best (and safest)? What signals does your body send to let you know that you are pushing it too hard? How do you balance the signals that your body is sending with the pressure you are getting from your coach and your friends? How can you push yourself to reach your best, without pushing so hard that you injure yourself and are unable to know what your potential could have been?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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