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home : health : health November 24, 2015

3/12/2013 1:46:00 PM
Coping with - and preventing - nagging athletic injuries
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Getting hurt is an occupational hazard for athletes, especially those of us who are of the weekend warrior variety.

There are two kinds of athletic injury: Acute (blown-out knee, tweaked back) and chronic overuse (bum knee, sore shoulder). Sisters Country physical therapy practices see about the same number of both.

Spring is a dangerous time for recreational athletes, because it marks a time of transition of activities. Folks who spent the winter on skis are climbing back on the bike or lacing up their running shoes. Different activities place different demands on the body.

Too many recreational athletes try to pick up where they left off last season, notes Greg Zadow of GreenRidge Physical Therapy & Wellness. They go too hard too soon. Big mistake.

Tendons, ligaments and muscles need to adjust to different motions and levels of activity.

"If you don't give them time to adapt, they break down," Zadow says.

A change in form can have a similar effect. Zadow notes that a lot of runners are transitioning to "barefoot" running. The change can bring benefits, but you can't start off with the same kind of mileage you've been doing in the old heel-strike style. You have to let your foot ease in to the different demands of barefoot running, or you'll end up with mid-foot problems.

Acute injury is bad, of course, but it's straightforward. You tear an ACL, you've got to get it fixed. Nagging injuries are, in a way, more problematic, because we tend to downplay, ignore or work around


Too much of a good thing is, in fact, too much. It leads to chronic overuse injury. Cyclists and runners can develop tendonitis in the knees; tennis players develop shoulder problems, and the beat goes on.

"'Work harder' doesn't always work," says Tate Metcalf of Sisters Athletic Club. "It's an easy mind-trap."

Zadow says that runners have the hardest time avoiding overdoing it. Running can be tough on the body, and if you overdo it and don't stop, you're going to get into trouble.

"Running seems to be an obsession," Zadow says. "It's hard for runners to slow down, take rest, even when they know they should."

Sometimes you need someone to tell you to dial it back.

"You need an outside perspective," Metcalf says. "That's why a whole lot of local athletes are hiring a coach."

If you've got a nagging problem, best not to ignore it. Don't get into the "play through the pain" mindset; it will likely just make your recovery slower when you finally do address the problem. Get to a physical therapist and get help.

"The earlier the better, the better the prognosis in most cases," says Matt Kirchoff of Therapeutic Associates in Sisters.

A therapist will prescribe a program to "return to activity in kind of a graded fashion," Kirchoff says.

Active folks won't want to hear it, Zadow says, but "the smart thing and the best thing to do is to modify activity."

It's important to get at the fundamental source of your injury.

"If it's chronic, there's usually a biomechanical problem that is overloading one area," Zadow says.

Of course, the best way to deal with injury is to avoid it. Knowledge is your ally. Learning what causes injury can help you prevent it.

"One of the most important things we do with our patients is education," says Kirchoff.

Kirchoff offers some tips for injury prevention:

• Do a dynamic warm-up before a workout or training session. Avoid static stretching; recent studies show that the benefits are minimal and it can actually be counterproductive.

• Listen to your body's cues. Don't push through pain.

• Cross train. If your activity does everything in one plane of motion (cycling, distance running, etc.), you're setting yourself up for chronic overuse injury.

Zadow agrees. Many athletes develop strength in one area while another is undertrained. That sets up the kind of compensatory biomechanical problem physical therapists see so often.

Many people rehab from injury in the pool, where buoyancy allows the body to work with no impact and little strain. The same principles make the pool great for alternate training. Runners can use the pool for no-impact workouts, and swimming is ideal cross-training.

Sisters Athletic Club's pool is used by everyone from seniors working on maintaining mobility to elite runners enhancing their training. And, of course, swimmers.

"As much as I hate swimming - I'm a horrible swimmer - when you get out, you say 'Damn! That felt great!'" Metcalf says. "More people should incorporate the pool into their weekly exercise. You feel great and it's great for your overall fitness."

Train smart; listen to your body; get help when you need it and you'll spend more time doing what you love in the playground of Sisters Country.

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