Now that you have more time to participate in the activities you enjoy, it’s wonderful to hit the golf course in the middle of the week, play tennis on the neighborhood seniors team, or continue any other sport you’ve always enjoyed. As a senior athlete, though — either part time or more hardcore — it’s important to think about safety and prevention so you can avoid a serious injury that sidelines you. The board-certified orthopedic surgeons at South Texas Spinal Clinic in San Antonio offer these five sports injury prevention tips for seniors so you can enjoy participating in sports and a healthy lifestyle for years to come.
1. Warm up first; play second
You’ve probably heard it all your life, about the importance of warming up before you play a sport, go for a run, or swing a racquet. Don’t underestimate the power of prevention from a good warm-up before exercise. As you get older, your musculoskeletal system goes through some significant structural and functional changes that may make it easier to get hurt while playing your favorite sport.
Spending several minutes stretching your muscles — especially the ones you’ll be using for your particular activity — plus, warming up your cardiovascular system, helps prevent injuries like strains and sprains that can lead to chronic painful conditions.
2. Don’t overdo it
Listen to your body. If you’re getting tired, or your muscles are feeling fatigued, take a break. Sure, 36 holes of golf might have been a walk in the park 10 years ago, but if you’re beginning to feel it in your elbow or wrist after the first 18, call it a day. It’s best to minimize the risk of overusing tired muscles and tendons.
Repetitive motions like swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet can lead to golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow, and long-term pain and weakness. It’s a good idea to quit for the day when you’re tired so you can play the next time without pain.
3. Limit high-impact activities
One of the most common sports injuries for seniors is a patellofemoral pain or runner’s knee. If you have pain in your kneecap when you run, play basketball, or other activities that produce a high impact on your knees, limit your time, wear a supportive brace, or take a break from the sport altogether until your knee has time to rest and heal.
Additionally, you can switch to a lower-impact activity like walking instead of running, or using an elliptical machine at the gym so you can still get a workout, but without the high impact to your joints and tendons.
Achilles tendinitis is another common condition for middle-aged runners, tennis players, and basketball players, especially if you play only on the weekends. Remember what we said about warming up if you’re a weekend warrior, so you can prevent overuse and strain on your Achilles tendons.
4. Wear the proper gear
You’re probably aware that as you age, you’re more susceptible to sports injuries for several reasons. Your body may not react as quickly as it once did, your joints may feel stiffer than in younger years, and you may have lost some flexibility. If you’re still playing sports like baseball and softball, or you’re on the over-50 ice hockey team, be sure you have the correct protective equipment to prevent injury, especially during falls.
Even if you’re just biking around the neighborhood with the grandkids, wear a helmet, as balance is more of a challenge in your senior years. And, as with any sport, always be sure to wear properly fitting, supportive shoes to prevent foot, ankle, and leg strains and injuries. Wearing the proper shoes can also help prevent back pain, another common condition for older individuals.
5. Mix it up
Many sports injuries among seniors are the result of repetitive use of the same muscle groups, tendons, and ligaments. If you’re on the golf course all week while on vacation, switch activities for a couple weeks when you return. This allows the muscles that have done all that work on the course to heal and repair themselves for the next time.
Cross-training exercises are great for working out different parts of your body, and for giving tired muscle groups a chance to rest. Also, if you typically participate in an activity that focuses on your upper body, like tennis, mix up your routine with lower body activities like biking or dancing. Rollerblading is a great lower body workout with cardio benefits, too. Just be sure to wear elbow pads and knee pads to protect your joints from injury.
Staying active at any age comes with wonderful health benefits, not to mention the social aspects of being part of a team or taking an exercise class. Just follow these guidelines, and listen to your body so you know your limits.
If you do have an injury, or if pain in your back, neck, or joints is keeping you out of your favorite sport, call one of our San Antonio or South Texas offices, or schedule an appointment with our expert team of orthopedic doctors at the location of your choice.