Health and Fitness

Enjoy an Active Chicago Summer Without Injuries

Northwestern Medicine expert offers tips for avoiding sports injuries this summer 

Chicago–(ENEWSPF)–June 21, 2012.  Chicago’s lakefront provides a unique opportunity for people to get out and enjoy the weather along its many miles of paths and parks. From beach volleyball to running and biking, warmer weather leads to an increase in physical activity for many people, which can also mean more sports-related injuries. Summer is a busy time for orthopaedic surgeons as they tend to patients with ailments ranging from strains and sprains to fractures and tears. To help people stay safe while they take advantage of the summer weather, Northwestern Medicine® sports medicine experts offer the following advice for preventing seasonal sports injuries.

“The summer is a great time to be outdoors and active, but if you don’t take a safe approach to exercising and sports, you risk injury,” said Sara Edwards, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s really important to focus on conditioning and to avoid overdoing it, especially if you have not been very active over the winter.”

In early summer, many injuries are caused by people overworking their bodies after taking time off during the colder months. Injuries vary by the type of physical activity, but Edwards often sees patients with strains, stress fractures, shoulder dislocations, runner’s knee and ACL tears. When returning to sports or exercise, she urges individuals to avoid doing too much too soon by gradually building back up to their previous workout level.

“Generally, people want to dive right into physical activity starting at the highest intensity level after taking a season off from training,” said Edwards. “The body needs to be reconditioned even after a short amount of time away from the physical activity.”

Along with gradual progression to more intense sports or training activities, Edwards also urges people to work on strengthening their core muscles which can significantly reduce the risk of injury. She recommends proper stretching before and after workouts to help alleviate stress on the body that often causes injury.

“Stretch slowly until you feel a slight pull on the muscle, but avoid jerking or fast movements intended to propel your body into desired positions; these stretching techniques often cause injury as they pull forcefully at the muscles adding unnecessary pressure and tension,” explained Edwards.

Another common cause of injury that Edwards sees is collisions along the high traffic lakefront.

“Cycling or running along the lake is a great way to engage in physical activity during the summer months, but it can also be dangerous if you don’t stay alert,” said Edwards. “Pedestrians and bikers both need to be aware of their surroundings and take caution to avoid accidents, especially at points where the lakefront path intersects with vehicle traffic. Slow down and look before crossing and if possible, avoid the more high traffic areas of the lakefront.”

While younger people represent a large portion of the active population, athletic injuries are not isolated to this age group. Age, weight, physical fitness level, and medical history are all factors that can influence a person’s risk of injury. Recovery from athletic injuries can range from a couple of days to more than a year depending on severity of the injury and necessary treatment. Minor injuries, such as a strain, may only take a week to recover from while something more severe such as an ACL tear may require surgery and physical therapy. Not every injury requires a visit to the doctor, with minor ailments often able to be treated at home with rest, icing and anti-inflammatory medications. However, in some cases a visit to the doctor is necessary.

“If an injury leaves you unable to bear weight or there is acute swelling in a joint or an audible pop, these are signs that you should seek medical attention,” explained Edwards. “If you think you have suffered a sprain, but the pain is not subsiding after conservative management for a few weeks, the injury should be checked by a physician.”

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.

For more information on sports injury prevention, listen to a podcast featuring Edwards. To find a physician, call 312-926-0779.