Warmer weather has a way of getting us off the couch and into more active pastimes—biking, yard work, tennis and spring cleaning.
If you’re feeling the urge to get up and get active, take a minute to prepare yourself with these tips from Jason Lazor, DO, a specialist in sports medicine and musculoskeletal injuries with the Spectrum Health Medical Group Sports Medicine.
What you learn here may help you steer clear of tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, shoulder injuries and other forms of tendonitis, which can all result from overuse.
“In the springtime, I see a lot of overuse injuries,” Dr. Lazor said. “People have deconditioned a little bit over the winter, and they jump out expecting to go and perform their sport or activity at the level they were pre-winter.”
So before you get up and go, hit pause and read an orthopedic pro’s suggestions for easing your body into spring and summer.
Dr. Lazor’s Top 12 Tips:
1. Set realistic expectations.
“If you have been more sedentary over the winter, then slowly evolve back into your sport,” Dr. Lazor said. Pushing your muscles too hard too fast isn’t worth the risk of injury.
2. Stretch and warm up.
Do this before any physical activity, whether it’s golfing or working around the house. Stretching your joints for five minutes can do a lot to prevent acute muscle or tendon injuries.
For athletes, Dr. Lazor recommends warming up with sport-specific exercises and drills rather than just, say, jogging to get the blood flowing. But he cautions against “bouncy stretching.” Keep movements slow and controlled.
3. Take a break.
Yes, take a breather when you feel muscle tightness setting in. Then do some more light stretching to loosen up before resuming the activity.
4. Stay hydrated.
This is good advice anytime, but especially when you’re engaged in sports. Dehydrated muscles and tendons are less flexible and less resilient, Dr. Lazor said.
So if you’re a coffee drinker, reduce your risk of muscle strain by drinking more water than coffee. And avoid excessive alcohol, another cause of dehydration.
5. Avoid smoking.
In addition to its other downsides, nicotine impairs the healing process for tendons and muscles.
6. Vary your activities.
To prevent muscle imbalance, you should mix it up. The shoulder, for example, has more than 20 muscles attached to it.
If you keep repeating the same overhead motion, “certain muscles will get overworked and others will decondition,” Dr. Lazor said. That throws off the shoulder’s balance, resulting in tendon damage.
Resistance training is a good way to prevent overuse injuries because it makes the muscles and tendons more resilient. Dr. Lazor emphasizes the essential part of resistance training—the slow, controlled downward motion of a biceps curl, for example, which lengthens the muscle and protects it from injury.
7. Use proper form.
When lifting and carrying heavy items, make sure your body mechanics are correct. Keep an upright position to help protect your back. And if you’re doing overhead work, use a ladder or step stool to put the work at eye level and reduce stress on the shoulders.
8. Eat well.
If you play endurance sports such as tennis, eat well so your muscles have the nutrients needed to stay healthy and heal if they become strained.
Plus, eating well makes you feel better. “If you eat junk, you are going to feel like junk,” Dr. Lazor said.
9. Use proper sports equipment and footwear.
Avoid injury by wearing shoes meant to support your particular foot anatomy.
Also, make sure to have the equipment that fits your body and experience level. For example, tennis players should use a racquet that matches your size and skill level.
10. Practice cross-training.
Keep your muscles in balance with variety. Don’t spend all of your time on one sport, Dr. Lazor said.
“You want to incorporate other sports—swimming, biking, running—because that works the muscles differently. It gives some of those muscles that are getting overused a break and works them in different ways.”
11. Build your core.
This means focusing on your abdomen, back, glutes and pelvis—because many sports injuries are related to deficits in core strength.
“I like planks for core work,” said Dr. Lazor. “When you do planks, whether it’s prone planks or side planks, you have to focus on utilizing your core—squeezing your butt cheeks together and, for both males and females, using the Kegel muscles.”
12. Stretch again at the end.
“I’m a big fan of doing your deep stretching after your activity,” Dr. Lazor said.
Again, using tennis as an example, this means stretching the shoulder, pectoral and back muscles, as well as the hamstrings and quads. Stretching after a workout, whether around the house or on the courts, will help your muscles rebound faster.
Preventing spring and summertime strains and muscle pains isn’t hard. It just takes a little patience, insight and common sense.