Summer Sports Injury Prevention: Common Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them

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Chicagoans are fully immersed in warmer weather after months of the bleak, gray cold. For many, this means more runs, bike rides and outdoor exercise. As an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in elbow and shoulder injuries, I’ve seen my share of patients with unexpected injuries because they have done too much, too soon, after too many months of inactivity.

Whether it’s because you’ve only done indoor workouts or because your winter involved too much Netflix-meets-couch time, warmer-weather sports injuries are common and can even sideline the most well-intentioned weekend warrior during what's arguably the best time of the year.

Here are some of the most common questions my sports medicine colleagues and I often receive about how to stay safe when exercising – seasonally or otherwise:

What sports injuries are most common in the summer?

When the weather warms up, athletes tend to want to go back to their sports quickly to make up for the time they were inside. But increasing intensity and volume is a recipe of injury. Even for those less seasoned athletes, repetitive motion, particularly when you aren’t used to it during the winter months, can increase your risk of:

  • Stress fractures
  • Swimmer's shoulder
  • Pitching elbow
  • Runner's knee
  • Jumper's knee
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Shin splints
  • Tennis elbow
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Pulled groin
  • Knee injuries (torn ACL, torn meniscus)
  • Dislocations

What causes sports injuries?

There are many causes of sports injuries. Everything from insufficient warm-up and stretching, poor conditioning and training techniques to previous injuries that have not properly healed or intense, high-level competition from contact (football, basketball) and noncontact (tennis, gymnastics) sports can lead to accidents. Common behaviors that can cause injuries this season include:

  • Working out too hard and/or overtraining, injuries are more likely if you are working out too often and/or for too long
  • Leveling up too quickly, changing the intensity of exercise or training too fast
  • Wearing the wrong shoes, such as shoes without enough support, increase risk of injuries
  • Poor training and/or incorrect technique can be very unsafe and ultimately lead to accidents and/or injuries
  • Not stretching before and after exercise
  • Dehydration can cause a range of symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, confusion and dizziness

Prevent Common Exercise Injuries this Summer

To perform the way you want and protect yourself from injuries, you need to take proactive steps to prepare your body properly. That means spending time during the off-season diversifying the types of activities you do.
You need to make sure you work your body in different ways. It's important to help decrease the stress caused by repetitive motions, which goes a long way toward preventing injuries.

Prepare in the Off-Season/Winter

For anyone with warmer-weather sporting events lined up, or have plans to take up new sports this season, make sure your winter and/or off-season includes exploring new exercises that activate your core and build strength in the upper and lower body with cross-training activities, such as:

  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Aqua jogging
  • Weight training

For runners and triathletes, strength training is not intended to build the muscle mass like a weightlifter, but instead to develop strength, power and endurance. Strength training can improve running performance and decrease injuries.

Build Up Exercise Overtime

Start with shorter distances (or a shorter duration for your workout) and build up progressively from there. Make sure you don’t increase your mileage or duration by more than 10% a week, especially if you’re running.

For example, if you ran three miles, three different times this week, your total weekly mileage is nine miles. Don’t run more than 10 total miles the following week. Build from there. Doing too much too soon means you may have to sit out the first weeks of spring nursing an injury. No one wants that.

Duration Before Speed

Speed should be the last thing you try to tack onto your training if you just started out. Once you’re comfortable with the mileage and/or duration of your workout, tempo runs or interval training will be the next steps.

Establish a Good, Consistent Stretching Routine

Make sure you stretch regularly and that the stretching encompasses your whole body. There are a lot of resources online if you’re unsure where to start. For whole-body workouts, the seven-minute workout has been scientifically validated to demonstrate benefits.

Incorporate Activity into your Workday

That could mean taking the stairs at work, do a walking meeting (weather permitting), sitting on an exercise ball at your desk, or doing calf raises and lunges while you’re on a conference call (nobody is watching you and will not think you are an exercise freak). Short bursts throughout the day can help maintain flexibility and strength when you can't go outside. The goal is to work hard and smart with your time.

When is it time to see a sports medicine physician for a sports injury?

My best advice is to listen to your body. Working out is not about fighting through pain. Muscle soreness and the sensation of a good workout is what we are looking for. If pain has been persistent for more than two weeks even though you’ve been resting, icing and limiting your physical activity, it’s time to have your injury looked at. Swelling and bruising could indicate a more serious injury.



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Nicholas Maassen

Nicholas Maassen, MD

Nicholas Maassen, MD, is an expert orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in elbow and shoulder injuries. Dr. Maassen’s primary focus is treating patients suffering from soft tissue (muscle, tendon and ligament) injuries, shoulder/elbow arthritis, and fractures in the upper extremity.

Learn more about Dr. Maassen
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