Spring is the time when we all get excited about getting outdoors once again. This is also the time of year when orthopaedic surgeons typically see patients in our offices with overuse injuries from returning to exercise and other physical activities after the winter. This year we anticipate such injuries to be more prevalent as a result of the inactivity that many of us have suffered over the last year because of COVID-19. We have all been inside more than usual and many of us have had less access to exercise.
With gyms and other recreational facilities being forced to shutter their doors because of the pandemic, many of us have not had the opportunity to exercise and maintain a basic level of fitness. With the arrival of spring and greater access to the COVID-19 vaccine we will be able to be outdoors more and have greater access to recreational facilities. As many of us have been inactive for the past year, it is important to be mindful of how we recondition and recharge our bodies so that we minimize the risk of stress and strain injuries.
There are four facets to a balanced exercise routine. Achieving balance in exercise will help us to properly recondition our bodies so that we can return to the activities we enjoy and minimize the risk of injury. This is especially true for those of us who have prior musculoskeletal injuries and/or are suffering from arthritis.
The first facet is strength training. Proper muscle strength helps to protect our joints and is critical to maintain the function of normal as well as damaged joints. Muscle atrophy, known as sarcopenia, is associated with poor health, risk of falls and fractured bones. Even a light exercise program has been shown to have a dramatic effect on muscle strength, overall health and reduce the risk of falls.
The second facet is generalized flexibility and range of motion. Optimizing muscle flexibility and joint range of motion is important to not only maintain our normal functional activities, but to do so in a manner that helps to prevent stress and strain injuries of our joints and muscles. Maintaining range of motion is critically important for those suffering from prior injuries and/or arthritis to maximize the continued function and integrity of the affected areas.
The third staple of an exercise program focuses on balance, gait and agility. As we all get older our ability to balance can diminish. Incorporating exercises, such as yoga and pilates, can improve our balance, gait and flexibility which will help to minimize our risk of falling and injury while improving our fitness and performance in exercise and sports.
Lastly, cardiovascular fitness and endurance is critical not only for maintaining musculoskeletal health and conditioning but also to maintain good overall physical, cardiovascular as well as mental health.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your physician prior to beginning a new exercise program, to take an inventory of your overall health, and to design an appropriate exercise program with respect to other medical and/or musculoskeletal comorbidities. We must be mindful that an exercise program should be progressive, and that fitness will develop over weeks and months and not over hours or days. Sometimes our enthusiasm to “get in shape” gets the best of us and we try to do too much too quickly. The body needs rest as much as it needs exercise. It’s actually the periods of rest between exercise where the body recovers and grows stronger.
We also benefit from variety in an exercise program to lessen the risk of constant repetitive motions and stresses that can lead to overuse injuries. One strategy to use when developing an exercise program is to focus on one or two of the elements mentioned above each time you exercise to introduce variety while lessening to the risk of injury. Exercise variety should also incorporate varying levels of frequency, intensity and duration of each exercise so as to lessen the cumulative overall exertion and lessen the risk of repetitive motions injuries. In other words, too much too soon of the same exercise can be counterproductive; exercise variety is desirable.
Two sports that people are often excited about returning to in the spring are golf and tennis. While quite different on the surface, both sports require a great deal of overall and sport specific strength and involve highly stressful motions requiring a great of flexibility and conditioning to maximize enjoyment and minimize risk of injury.
Check out our exercise program that may help you get your body back in shape for these sports (link to next blog). For further questions and conditioning programs, visit Rothman Orthopaedics.
Dr. Levine is a fellowship trained, board certified orthopaedic surgeon specializing in total joint replacement surgery at Rothman Orthopaedics. He sees patients in Montvale and Rutherford. For more information or to make an appointment, visit RothmanNJ.com.
Dr. Lauren Zarro, PT, DPT has a clinical background in outpatient orthopaedics, with experience in a diverse patient population including sports rehabilitation, balance training, joint replacements and pediatric orthopedic cases. Lauren is employed by Professional Physical Therapy, and is currently treating at the Rothman Orthopaedics in Rutherford. If you are experiencing pain with the exercises in the above program and would like to set up an evaluation with Lauren, please contact: (551) 258-0864.