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How to avoid the summertime sports injury blues

How to avoid the summertime sports injury blues
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Fuel for the fire

Warm-up tips

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2010

It's summertime, and business at the Pan Am Clinic is brisk.

Clients are walking - or limping - through the doors these days in increasing numbers, all complaining of similar aches and pains, usually the result of a sportrelated injury.

In most cases, they are people who have come out of winter hibernation, eager to hit the courts or links, swing a bat, hop on a bike or jog around a park, without taking the time to properly warm up before engaging in their favourite activity. The result: muscle pulls and tears, knee pain and stress fractures.

Mike Arbez, an athletic therapist at Pan Am's Minor Injury Clinic has an explanation for the summer rush. "I think a lot of them feel fine before the activity," says Arbez. "It's a time thing, especially for golfers. I find that everyone gets very, very rushed. The summers are so short that they try to fit in as many things as they can and they may run from the car to the first tee box and grab a club out of the bag and just give it a good rip. Next thing you know, your back's sore, you hurt your shoulder."

Arbez, who is also an orthopedic technologist, says warm-ups needn't be arduous and generally take about 10 to 15 minutes before an activity. Usually, it involves "dynamic stretches" that are sportspecific to warm up the muscles and joints.

"It's not your typical static stretching, where you try to stretch out your quadricep muscles by pulling your heel toward your bum or stretching your calf against a wall for 15 or 20 seconds," Arbez says. "Those are still great stretches to do to increase your flexibility at the end of your activities as your cool down."

The best way to warm up, says Arbez, is to think about what motions your body will be using in your activity. If you will be running forward and backwards, shuffling side to side, turning out your hips and opening up, you need to warm up these muscles and joints, get the blood flowing, and boost the heart rate.

Arbez says people generally have a tough time knowing how to warm up the hips. "They come out of winter activities and they have pretty weak hips, and all of a sudden they're out there on these uneven surfaces running and they're getting knee pains and hip pains," he says.

It's also critical to be aware of the hazards around you when you take your activities or exercises outdoors. He treats runners for knee pain and stress fractures because they don't recognize it's different to jog on a treadmill compared to concrete or asphalt. Also, watch out if you're running on fields with gopher holes, a hazard that sends clients his way with ankle sprains.

Runners should also set their treadmills on a slight incline during the winter so they'll be better prepared for an outdoor landscape. And don't expect it'll be as easy to run four kilometres outside as it is on your treadmill. "Do two to three (kilometres) and see how your body is doing. You'll know more the next day how you're feeling," says Arbez.

"It's actually much harder to run and propel yourself while you're running outside than it is to keep up with a moving belt on a treadmill because that's already pre-set for you. All you're doing is trying to keep up with it, you're not really pushing yourself like you would be if you run outside."

Cyclists need to be aware that they may not have the same balance as they did in the fall after a long winter, causing them to be susceptible to falls and trauma injuries such as fractured wrists, he says. It's also important cyclists do some maintenance on their bikes - see if the chains are dusty, if they need to be oiled and if the tires are inflated enough.

It's also a good idea to vary your activities. Arbez says concentrating on the same ones all the time means you're not working all your muscles.

But even with all the advice out there about the importance of warming up your body, he won't be surprised if the clinic's caseload continues to swell every spring.

And that really is too bad.

"Just taking 10 to 15 minutes for a bit more dedicated warm-up time to prepare themselves for activity will save them in the long term - stop them from getting any nagging injuries that might keep them from away from enjoying those summer months," Arbez says.

Judy Owen is a Winnipeg writer.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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