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What is it about the spring and summer that makes us believe our bodies are indestructible? Maybe it’s the warm weather beckoning us to get out of the house after a long, cold winter. Perhaps it’s the traditional warm-weather outdoor activities such as gardening, walking, biking, running or fishing. It could be the horror that comes from glancing at the full-length mirror in the hall and noticing  the winter weight – resulting from all the comfort food and no physical activity – is about to be displayed for the entire world to see the first time a swimsuit or tennis togs are worn.

For these and a myriad of other reasons, many otherwise sane individuals decide  the pleasant chirping of birds and distant hum of a lawn mower should be accompanied by the sounds of running shoes hitting the pavement and the huffing and puffing that comes from someone trying get back into shape. In moderation, this is a worthwhile and even healthy endeavor. However, if it’s overdone or done improperly, it can result in debilitating back pain, excruciating joint pain, herniated discs, sacroiliac joint strains and possible injury to the spine, neck and limbs.

In order to help you avoid this rite of spring, we’ve asked Texas Back Institute occupational and sports medicine specialist, Dr. James Cable, to give us some insights on avoiding the pain while realizing the gain of exercise and activity. Before getting this advice, it’s interesting to review the ways we abuse our bodies, in the hopes of getting into swimsuit shape.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the U.S. governmental agency charged with a wide range of public health monitoring and management duties and one of its missions involves promoting physical activities and preventing injuries. The agency’s website notes, “Participation in sports, recreation, and exercise is increasingly popular and widespread in American culture. These activities include organized sports (school or club) and unorganized sports (backyard or pick-up), such as basketball, football, and hockey; recreational activities, such as boating, biking, skiing, swimming, and playground activities; and exercise and training activities, such as weight-lifting, aerobics, and jogging.”

The site continues, “Participation in sports, recreation and exercise activities contributes to health-related fitness; however, the risk of injury is inherent in any physical activity.” This is why the CDC is concerned about you or your family members’ participation in organized or individual exercise and recreational activities.

The public health agency references some serious public health data.

  • More than 10,000 people receive treatment in the nation’s emergency departments each day for injuries sustained in (recreational) activities.
  • At least one of every five emergency room visits for an injury results from participation in sports or recreation.
  • 1999, Americans made an estimated 1.5 million ER visits for injuries sustained while playing basketball, baseball, softball, football, or soccer.
  • Approximately 715,000 sports and recreation injuries occur each year in school settings alone.

And here is the most depressing part of these data.

  • Injuries are also a leading reason people stop participating in potentially beneficial physical activity.

The statistical breakdown on sports and recreational injuries is also interesting to contemplate – especially before jumping in to that full-court basketball game without warming up.

  • Children younger than 15 years account for about 40% of all recreation related emergency room visits.
  • Adolescents and young adults under age 25 have high participation rates in recreational activities and experience almost one third of all recreational-related injuries.
  • The population of older adults is increasing, and little is known about their injury risk during participation in Sports Related Exercise.  In 1996, emergency rooms treated more than 53,000 sports and recreation-related injuries among people 65 and older, a 54% increase from 1990.

This third point suggests even more mayhem as the Baby Boomer generation, which has a well-chronicled interest in feeling and looking healthy, ages. This zest for life and activity combined with the wear and tear on muscles and joints exponentially increases the potential for emergency room visits.

With All of These Fitness Options, Why is Obesity at an All-Time High?

With the popularity of “boot camps” and “cross fit” training along with the proliferation of high-tech workout facilities, spinning classes, treadmills and other fitness equipment, soccer camps, basketball camps, marathon training classes and any number of other sports and recreational opportunities men, women and children have numerous opportunities to get fit. With all of these opportunities, the intriguing question is: Why is the U.S. population – especially children – more obese than it has ever been in history?

The answer may have to do with the fact  pain and injuries discourage adults of all ages and kids from participating in regular fitness activities. This would also explain why the public health experts at the CDC are concerned about sports and recreational injury trends.

Before Undertaking Vigorous Activity – Read This

 Aside from the healthcare expenses, the human misery associated with spring and summer recreational activities are serious considerations.Therefore, before taking off on that 50-mile bike ride with no advance training, or having too much weight on the bench press bar, take a minute to read this advice from Dr. James Cable. He is a specialist in recreational and occupational back injuries at Texas Back Institute.

Dr Cable W Patient

What are the most prevalent sports and recreation related injuries  you treat in the spring and summer?

As people get more active – working out or doing yard work – the most common injury is a back sprain. Usually, if someone with a back sprain can take it easy and then slowly get back into gentle activity, they are able to overcome this problem. However, if they’ve given it 2 to 4 weeks to rest and they are still experiencing pain, they should probably get some medical attention. For a normal back sprain, one shouldn’t spend more than a couple of days in bed because any more than this will cause a loss in muscle strength. Conversely, they don’t want to exacerbate the injury. The best approach is to slowly test the water by slowly increasing the activity.

What can a person who has been inactive during the winter do to acclimate themselves to outdoor activities, without becoming injured?

They should use basic athletic training principles of gradual increases in the level of activity. For example, if someone is not accustomed to running, she/he should undertake a walking/jogging approach. This involves alternating three minutes of walking and one minute of jogging for a total of 30 minutes. Gradually, the individual should work to increase the number of minutes jogging, while still alternating with walking for a total of one hour. The key is to slowly ease into the activity. If it’s yard work your undertaking, you don’t want to be lifting 100 pound bags of cement unless you’re used to lifting this weight.

What are the types back injuries  you treat most often for those participating in spring sports and recreation?

The types of back injuries  we see the most of are those that occur from lifting, twisting and bending. These are back muscle strains, herniated discs and sacroiliac joint strains. The pressure from lifting that 100-pound of cement or twisting the body in the course of a pickup basketball game loads the spine in an awkward fashion. Under extreme conditions lifting heavy objects can result in the discs being ruptured.

Common aches and pains will always occur when someone takes part in strenuous activity. However, is there a type of pain or feeling that suggests  medical attention should be sought immediately?

It is very rare but if the person becomes paralyzed or loses control of their bowel and/or bladder, they should go to the Emergency Room immediately. Short of that, if one develops gradual numbness in legs or arms, they need to come in to see us. Neurologic symptoms such as dragging a foot or the extreme symptoms noted above are alarming and very rare, but if they occur after strenuous physical activity, a doctor’s exam is called for.

What is your best advice for someone thinking about getting into shape this spring?

Don’t get out of shape in the first place! The biggest battle involves the couch potato who has not been in shape for years. However, we live in the real world and lots of people are out of shape. Even athletes who fail to maintain a level of physical activity can get out of shape. However, if they have been in good condition before, it’s easier for them to get back into shape. The best advice is to do something; walking, ride a stationary bike just get moving a little. Fortunately, people who are not used to exercising will see benefits a lot faster, because their baseline is lower.

Since Sunday is Mother’s Day, here’s a story about my mom. We had some puppies and I gave my mom one of these little guys. She’s about 5’ 1” and at the time was a little overweight and had health issues associated with this weight problem. This is a lady who got no exercise whatsoever. Well, the puppy wanted to be walked and she started walking him around the block a couple of times each day. The effect of this minimal exercise was pretty amazing. She lost 20 pounds and her blood pressure normalized just by taking her dog out for a walk. If she can get into shape with this small commitment of time, anyone can!


 

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