Olympic Physicians Offer Advice on How to Prevent Sports Injuries
“Neither Olympians nor weekend warriors are immune to tendonitis, ankle sprains, low back problems and concussions. While these injuries are common to both professional and amateur athletes alike, they can often be prevented with proper conditioning,” according to Dr. Jo Hannafin, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Medical Staff and orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) as well as a former competitive rower.
Dr. Scott Rodeo, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Medical Staff and orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) as well as a former competitive swimmer, says, “Activities like tennis, softball, cycling, volleyball or basketball can cause people to exert a considerable amount of pressure on their muscles and joints. The patterns of injury in these sports are similar for both the amateur and professional athlete.”
Dr. Hannafin, a former national gold medalist in lightweight rowing, and her HSS colleague Dr. Rodeo, who qualified for the NCAA National Swimming Championships, are two of the 11 doctors on U.S. Olympic Committee medical staff who will be providing healthcare to the more than 540 American athletes at the games in Athens. Dr. Hannafin will support the athletes in rowing; Dr. Rodeo will support the swimmers and divers – both will assist in other sports.
HSS sports medicine physicians work with amateur and professional athletes of all ages, including many Olympians. They find that their patients’ injuries generally reflect the physical demands of the particular sport they play. Some of the most common injuries they see in athletes are shoulder or knee pain, ankle sprains, low back problems and concussions.
When to See a Sports Medicine Specialist
If you are injured during physical activity, how do you know when it’s time to see a sports medicine specialist?
* If you have severe or prolonged pain lasting more than 48 – 72 hours.
* Loss of function (you have difficulty performing work or daily activities).
* If you heard a “popping sound” when the injury occurred
* An injury to a joint
* Any infection
Below are some tips from HSS sports medicine specialists that athletes of any level can heed to prevent injury:
Avoid the “too much, too soon” injury trap. Start your first practices or workouts gently and slowly. Work up gradually to more aggressive training or play by increasing your training duration or mileage just 10% each week.
Stretch regularly. You’ll see many Olympic athletes stretching to keep their muscles limber. Maintaining flexibility is particularly critical as you age.
Stay hydrated. When you’re thirsty, you’re already 1-3% dehydrated. So drink before you feel thirsty. In general, drink as much as you comfortably can before, during and after exercise. Sports drinks are a good way of minimizing the chance of leg cramps, heat exhaustion and nausea, particularly during vigorous exercise in hot conditions. Physicians in Athens are already preparing for widespread dehydration among athletes.
Replace your shoes. Replace your running shoes every 250-500 miles, whether or not they appear worn out. Nagging knee, hip or foot pain can result from shoes that no longer provide adequate support or cushioning.
Warm up. Your warm-up should include 5-10 minutes of low-level cardiovascular exercise (i.e., light jogging, brisk walking or cycling) and easy movement patterns to mimic your sports activity.
Strengthen. Perform strengthening exercises 2-3 times per week for your legs, arms and trunk.
Listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop. “The mantra “No Pain, No Gain” is old news. While exercise will typically challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system, this is different than pain! Trying to push through pain could lead to serious injury.
Learn and practice good technique. This can prevent you from putting undue stress on your joints. Olympic athletes work long and hard to maximize their movement patterns to allow for efficient movement.
Use proper equipment in good condition. Bicycle helmets, kneepads and protective goggles are examples of equipment that must fit properly and be worn consistently during training.