Beware! Recreational athletes more at risk of injuries

PHOTO: Beware! Recreational athletes more at risk of injuries

As we embark on our respective careers, sports and games, more often than not, take a backseat.

Eventually, we may start re-indulging in some sporting activity or other, albeit at an erratic pace and consistency.

This is when we turn into what is called the "weekend warrior", a term referring to recreational athletes. However, the term recreational does not make us any less competitive than the younger athletes we play with or against.

Is this safe? The number of sporting injuries - both acute and overuse - are significantly skewed towards those who are recreational athletes. There are, however, ways not to add to these statistics and to continue enjoying your activities for the longest possible period.

First and foremost, we need to understand and accept the fact that our body is no longer as seemingly formidable as that of a teenager's. Simple as it may seem, this is an essential fact to remember.

Secondly, understand that every facet of sports and games evolve with time. The trick is to get everything right from the outset:

Attire

Modern sport is flooded with state-of-the-art attire extolling better performance, often with absurd prices. The prudent action is to purchase attire that is comfortable and functional.

For example, runners should ideally wear breathable and lightweight attire, which allows cooling down of the body, particularly in humid weather. This need not be an expensive exercise.

Additionally, in any sport, it is best to invest in proper footwear - sport-specific is best. Having proper socks is equally imperative. Many a time, a lot of money is spent on the latest footwear, with scant attention to the socks worn with them - the difference is potential injury!

Additionally, be mindful that innerwear is as important as the outerwear.

Equipment and technique

Equipment

This is an elementary and crucial factor. The right equipment keeps you from harm's way - those who play hockey without shin pads or a ball-guard will attest to this.

This is particularly pertinent in the older athlete who is less nimble in getting out of risky situations. The correct type of equipment, ie racquet, golf club or hockey stick will prevent both acute injuries and the more common injuries arising from overuse. This is particularly the case in recreational athletes.

Technique

Most weekend warriors think they have it all figured out. Whilst it is true that some of them might have been playing a particular sport for years, the techniques in most sports evolve as sports medicine brings about newer concepts in therapy and preventive strategies.

Even the playing surface has changed with the times.

Therefore, techniques have to be re-learnt. And when re-learning a particular technique, the trick is to break it down into small manageable steps and gradually moving on to the new technique as a whole. This is very effective in preventing injuries.

Intensity

Control the intensity of your exercise. Don't try to keep up with the younger, more conditioned athlete. I promise you a visit to the clinic if you do this once too often.

This does not mean that the weekend warrior needs to just roll over and give in. It simply means that a prudent approach involving a more gradual increase in intensity and frequency can allow for a sport to be enjoyed for a longer period.

The idea is to enjoy the game and not injure yourself doing it.

Just to put a practical spin to this idea, in weightlifting, the oft-quoted protocol is increasing your load between 10-15 per cent weekly. For the recreational athlete, it would be wise to keep this at 10 per cent - you will ultimately get there too.

Play-rest cycle

The play-rest cycle

Having a good play-rest cycle allows for adequate recovery. This is particularly effective in preventing overuse injuries, which occur during repeated activity of a body part, at non-maximal load. It is the frequency that causes the injury, and not the intensity of the load.

On the rest day, it is not necessary to stop exercising completely. However, it is advisable to carry out exercises that involve different muscle groups. This in turn introduces variety and fun in your activities.

Managing the day after sport

Particularly after a heavy session of sporting activities or exercise, the weekend warrior often complains of the body feeling sore the next day.

Soreness is a common consequence of sports and exercise. It is often said that one has to accept soreness as an inevitable part of exercising. It's an indication that one has exercised well.

However, it is important to know that soreness after exercise usually eases off within 16-24 hours. If there is any soreness still felt thereafter, it means that you have potentially over-reached and over-exercised your current capabilities.

Here too, prevention is better than cure. Understand that the pre-exercise or pre-sport "warm up-stretching-game-warm-down" cycle allows for a gradual easing of the body into and out of exercise.

This prevents potential injury and eases recovery.

Furthermore, soreness can be negated by cryotherapy, post-exercise or post-sport. This can be via the use of custom-made icepacks, or simply, crushed ice placed in a plastic bag and wrapped in a moist towel.

Cryotherapy applications, two to three times for 20 minutes each time, every two hours, often helps in superficial joint injury in the shoulder, knee and ankle.

Stiffness felt on the morning after exercise is often relieved by the application of heat - often simply by a warm shower.

Know when to seek help

The weekend warrior, like other athletes, often understimates the severity of an injury. Signs that necessitate early medical attention include:

·The inability to bear weight on the injured part.

·Inability to move a joint through its whole range of motion comfortably.

·Feeling of joint instability.

·Severe swelling of the body part.

·Persistent pain in spite of resting, particularly with use of pain medications.

Like any other sports participant, the recreational athlete aims to enjoy his/her sport, while at the same time, hoping to avoid injury. It is best to "listen" to the signs shown by one's body.

For example, playing through pain is never a good idea. Stopping when tired is often a safe decision.

Heeding such simple rules allow for the enjoyment of a sport or activity, for as long as one wants.

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