With warmer weather on the way, trading the snow shovel for a golf club or tennis racket is right around the corner. However, before hitting the course or court this spring, it's important to take the proper preventative steps to ensure your body isn't being put at risk.
“If you haven’t been using the muscles necessary for your sport in the past few months, you’ll need to start slowly and make sure you have the strength and conditioning needed to play,” said Robert Spatz, director of physical therapy at the Harrison, New York office of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists.
A simple pre-season program using light weights or an exercise band can help protect against back strain, arm pain and more. Spatz recommends starting with daily stretching exercises before moving on to weight bearing or resistance training.
As with any physical activity, core muscle strengthening is essential. “Without core strength, the muscles in your back, neck and extremities will be strained taking you through your motions,” said Spatz. Shoulders must also be ready for the demands of repeated overhead use.
In general, exercises that involve the internal and external rotation of the shoulder are beneficial for the rotator cuff, the likely culprit for shoulder pain. This can be done using a band tied to a doorknob. For internal rotation exercise, hold the band in one hand across the shoulder, then stretch the band downward until the forearm is parallel to the ground.
It’s also important to keep pectoral and back muscles supple. Cross body stretches, achieved by moving an extended arm across the chest, will help prevent and reduce any tightness that may occur in the back of the shoulder.
These exercises will also help reduce the risk of elbow conditions such as tendinitis and golf and tennis elbow. Elbow injuries can occur because the wrist muscles, which originate in the wrist but attach at the elbow, become overused or lack the proper strength to match the demand of each sport.
Common lower body extremity injuries include calf strains and ankle sprains, which can be avoided if the muscles have been strengthened repeatedly. Ankles are particularly vulnerable to quick changes in direction. Single leg balance exercises are a great way to protect against these potential injuries.
When it's time to play, begin slowly and warm up with a light jog 5-10 minutes before starting. When you’re done for the day, cool down and gently stretch your muscles.
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