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Lessons in Injury Prevention

Adam Rana, M.D.

JUNE 2014 – Oftentimes I hear from my senior patient population, “Dr. Rana, what are the best ways to maintain or improve my overall musculoskeletal health?” or “What can I do to slow down the aging process?” While there is no fountain of youth, regular exercise can help to enhance muscle and joint function, keep your bones strong, and decrease ones risk of heart attack and stroke.

The following are recommendations I offer my patients on how to exercise safely. These tips complement suggestions that have been developed by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Prior to working out, always take time to warm up and stretch. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm-up exercises that I suggest include stationary cycling, or walking in place for five minutes. Follow this with stretching and hold each position for 30 seconds.

The cool-down after a workout is just as important as the warm-up. Gentle stretching after physical activity is very important to prepare your body for the next time you exercise. It also makes recovery from exercise easier.

Develop a consistent exercise program. Avoid the "weekend warrior" syndrome, which packs a week’s worth of exercise into two days. This sets you up for trouble and does not increase your overall fitness level. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Remember that moderate physical activity can include walking the dog or planting in the garden. At work, you can take the stairs instead of an elevator, or park the car at the far end of a parking lot.

Learning or re-learning how to play a sport with the correct mechanics is important. Whether you are a beginner, or have been playing a sport for a long time, lessons are a worthwhile investment. Proper form and instruction reduce the chance of developing an "overuse" injury like tendinitis or a stress fracture.

Listen to your body. As you age, you may find that you are not as flexible as you once were or that you cannot tolerate the same types of activities that you did ten years ago. While no one is happy about getting older, you will be able to prevent injury by modifying your activity to accommodate your body's needs.

Apply the 10% rule when increasing your activity level. Don’t increase duration or intensity by more than 10% each week. If you normally walk two miles a day and want to increase your fitness level, do not suddenly walk four miles the next day. Slowly build up distance each week until you reach your goal. This rule also applies to weights when strength training.

Cross training is your friend. Develop a balanced fitness program that incorporates cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility. This will help reduce your risk of getting bored, and lessen your chances of injury. Triathlons are an excellent way to vary cardiovascular exercise.

If you have had a sports or Orthopaedic injury like tendinitis, arthritis, a stress fracture, or low back pain, consult an Orthopaedic surgeon who can help design a fitness routine to promote wellness, and minimize the chance of injury.

Maine Medical Partners is a department of Maine Medical Center