Men's Articles

Baby Boomers Pursuing Fitness


As more baby boomers pursue fitness, sports injuries are becoming more common. You won't catch teacher Irene running as though bees are after her. She does a 5km run once a week but she tries not to "run too fast or exert too much pressure, otherwise my knees will hurt after the run". The Secondary School teacher, who also swims regularly, had injured her knees when she was in her late 20s. The 47-year-old is among an increasing number of baby boomers who have taken to regular exercise to stay healthy.

However, as one grows older, the chances of sustaining an injury while exercising increase as well. Dr Paul, director of sports medicine service at the department of orthopaedic surgery, has seen a 30 per cent increase in sports injuries sustained by baby boomers, compared to five years ago. He adds that baby boomers often suffer from the "weekend warrior syndrome". This happens when .they do not exercise much during the week, then try to compensate and over-exercise on weekends. Common injury-prone areas include the knees, shoulders, back, ankles and elbows.

Injuries can be acute or due to overuse. Sports that involve contact, sudden acceleration and deceleration or pivoting make one more susceptible to acute injuries like knee ligament types and ankle sprains. Endurance sports like distance running are more likely to cause overuse injuries like anterior knee pain syndrome and shin splints. Shin splints produce pain in the shin due to a variety of causes, including stress injury of the bone or irritation at the muscle attachments to the bone.

Baby boomers elsewhere are not spared from sports injuries either. In the United States, these injuries have become the No. 2 reason for visits to a doctor's office, behind the common cold, according to a 2003 survey by National Ambulatory Medical Care. Many sufferers were baby boomers, loosely defined as the 78 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964. When the Consumer Product Safety Commission there examined emergenecy room visits in 1998, it found that sports-related injuries to baby boomers had risen by 33 per cent since 1991 and amounted to US$18.7 billion in medical costs.

One reason is that baby boomers have more time and money to engage in sports. The increase in their seeking treatment could also be due to greater awareness of sports medicine clinics available in hospitals. They want to be treated so that they can return to the sport at the soonest possible opportunity, says Dr Paul. Apart from outdoor sports, the older crowd is hitting the gyms too.

Mr Rob Devereux, regional director of fitness development at California Fitness, says it has witnessed a 15 to 20 per cent hike in the number of baby boomers joining its clubs, compared to five years ago. While exercising with machines is done via more controlled and slower movements, he warns that injuries can still occur. Gym-goers should take extra care of their spine, especially if they have an office job. Those who adopt a poor sitting posture tend to have a bad standing posture as well.

"The supportive structure of the spine starts to degenerate as one ages. When you add weight to poor posture, it can exacerbate the stress on your spine," says Mr Devereux. When running on the treadmill, one has to ensure that the knees stay in alignment with the toes. "If the toes point outward, this can cause rotational strain on the knee joints, causing chronic injury," says Mr Devereux, adding that, when in doubt, you should check with the gym's trainers.

Ultimately, common sense should prevail and Dr Paul says you can't go wrong if you listen to your body. "Even trivial injuries can lead to problems without adequate rest," he says, noting that most injuries are caused by overtaxing the body. Dr Paul advises people to be realistic about their targets: "Try not to achieve too much too soon. Injuries tend to occur when there is a sudden increase in intensity and volume, so be gradual in the increments."

Exercise Caution

As one gets older, the risk of sustaining injuries daring sporting activity increases as well. Here's where trouble may stride 

Shoulder

A common injury, especially for those who play sports like badminton, tennis and squash

Injuries: Rotator cuff tendon tears, Inflammation due to partial or full tears in the muscles

Treatment: Modification of sports (cross-training or reducing intensity of sports). Surgery may be required if problem becomes serious.

Elbow

Common for those who play a lot of racket games

Injuries: Tennis and Golfer's elbows, which are muscle tears due to overuse or the sports equipment being faulty.

Treatment: Modification of sports. In some rare cases, steroids are injected to prevent inflammation. Surgery required if condition does not improve.

Back

Common injury, especially for golfers due to the rotational movement when they swing the golf club Injuries: Intervertebral disc problem or slipped disc which can affect the nerves and cause pain in the leg.

Treatment: Modification of the sports played. Do more stretching before engaging in the sports. Surgery may be required if condition does not improve.

Ankle

Problems, though not common, can strike those who do a lot of walking or long-distance running Injuries: Heel pain or plantar fasciitis which are small tears in the ligament of the foot, causing pain when one steps out of bed in the morning. Sprains

Treatment: Longer periods of stretching. Wearing suitable shoes. Modification of sports.

Knee

Most common injury, especially for runners.

Injuries: Degenerating meniscal tears which result in pain and swelling Tendonitis, a soft-tissue inflammation Locking of knees, a condition where the knees jam up and can't be straightened Treatment: Modification of sports. Surgery may be required if problem becomes serious

 

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