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Advice for the Weekend Warrior

As a practicing orthopaedic surgeon, a fair number of patients I see have sustained injuries during physical activity on the weekend. The typical patient is someone between 30 to 50 years old who exercises irregularly except on the weekends. We call them “weekend warriors.”

While there are a variety of reasons why a weekend warrior may be injured, I’ve frequently seen showing up “late” for a sporting event as the cause. Instead of taking the appropriate time to warm up and stretch, they simply start playing. Their lack of stretching combined with the lack of regular activity, sets up a perfect storm for minor and major injuries.

Here are the most common injuries incurred by weekend warriors for the shoulder, knee and ankle:
For the shoulder, rotator cuff strains are most prevalent. This group of four muscles helps elevate the arm above shoulder level and aids in the throwing motion. Activities such as serving in tennis and weight lifting can commonly cause this injury. The most effective initial treatment is rest and limited overhead activity for at least seven to10 days. In addition, I recommend anti inflammatory medication. When pain persists, professional help by an orthopaedic surgeon is recommended.

With the knee, menisci tears are extremely frequent. The meniscus is a thin layer of cartilage between the surfaces of your knee joint, functioning like a shock absorber, which can be injured with twisting, non-contact motions. For example, basketball involves running, quick stopping, and sudden direction changes, which can result in meniscal strains, partial tears and/or complete tears. Initial treatment involves ice, elevation and limited weight bearing. In addition, initially limiting repetitive bending and squatting is beneficial. However when full tears are present, outpatient surgery is often necessary.

The most common injury I see with the ankle is a sprain, but I feel the Achilles tendon is particularly vulnerable for weekend warriors and has much greater consequences such as surgery if injured. The Achilles is particularly at risk in running and cutting sports, and has an especially lengthy recovery period that often exceeds six months. Patients typically feel as if they were “kicked” in the back of the leg. This injury is especially easy to incur if stretching is not performed before activity. Weekend warriors lack of regular exercise decreases the Achilles’ elasticity (ability of stretching), thus when it incurs abnormal stress, it can often rupture. Like the knee, initial Achilles tendon treatment involves ice, elevation and restricted weight bearing, however if prolonged symptoms or pain occur, then seek advice from your orthopaedic surgeon.  

In conclusion, I cannot emphasize enough to weekend warriors the importance of stretching. Stretching increases the amount of stress a muscle or tendon can bear before tearing. Particularly practice active stretching (stretching without assistance) versus passive stretching (assisted stretching) in order to strengthen and prepare your body. Also, exercise regularly during the week. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week can have dramatic effects on your overall physical health and ability to tolerate aerobic stress.