Summer is the time to play sports, and that means injuries. Injuries can ruin an entire season, but can be prevented. So we spoke to Shanghai United Family Hospital & Clinics physiotherapist Christopher Pedra and Dr. Thomas Clanton, director of orthopedics at American Medical Center.
Before you undertake any outdoor activities, be aware of the heat. “Muscle cramping is an extremely common side-effect of dehydration and heat exhaustion,” says Dr. Clanton, “and heat can speed the onset of muscle overexertion, which can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle fibers, which can then lead to kidney damage.”
If you’re outside, you must hydrate, and that goes beyond sipping water. You lose necessary electrolytes in sweat, and sports drinks are proven to be effective in replenishing electrolytes and correcting imbalances that lead to muscle cramps.
Beyond heat exhaustion, Pedra and Clanton highlight a few common summer sports injuries.
Tennis: According to Pedra, common acute tennis injuries include sprained ankles; strained calves, hamstring, lower back and shoulder muscles and tennis elbow and rotator cuff problems. With gentle stretching of the shoulders, arms, forearms, gluteals, hamstrings, quads and calves, muscle injury can be avoided. Pedra also suggests warming up for 15 minutes at 75 percent intensity before moving into a full game.
Cycling: As cyclists in Shanghai know all too well, most acute cycling injuries occur as a result of accidents. Says Pedra, “[Regular] cyclists [may also] complain of lower back and neck pain as a result of bike posture. Another common complaint is iliotibial band syndrome, a common injury to the knee, often the result of weak gluteal muscles. Before a long ride, prepare as you would for tennis and then take a warm-up ride.”
Hiking: The most common injuries are sprained ankles and other problems associated with tripping and falling. Wear proper shoes so you have adequate ankle support. If you’re undertaking a strenuous hike, Pedra urges you to prepare through endurance training and by eating well and strengthening your lower limbs.
Gym: Those who eschew sweat-soaked outdoor activities for the gym should be cautious when lifting weights. Pedra says that strained muscles and even herniated discs are the most common gym injuries, and that these often stem from pushing or lifting too much weight. To leave the gym injury free, he suggests building in cardio time for all your workouts. “Running, swimming, cycling or rowing are the most effective ways to raise core temperature and warm the tissues pre-exercise.” If you’re new to the gym, be aware that soreness after a heavy workout is common for up to 72 hours, so don’t be alarmed if it hurts to laugh.
If you are injured during a workout, Dr. Clanton reminds you to “give your body proper nutrition and time to rest,” adding that “chocolate milk has proven to be very beneficial for post-workout recovery.” The drink has properties that help replenish your muscles’ lost nutrients. Clanton, who has worked with celebrated basketball player Yao Ming, says, “A number of professional athletes drink chocolate milk after exercise rather than expensive engineered recovery drinks.”
In general, be smart. Preventing injuries is much easier than treating them, so use common sense, hydrate and don’t overexert.