Q & A about sports injuries on the older athlete

Dr. Scott Hofer, an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, answers your questions about sports injuries on the older athlete.

Tennis, golf, soccer, biking, jogging...on any given day, you'll see folks of all ages participating in their favorite sports. While exercising throughout life has positive effects on the aging process, our bodies become more prone to injury as the years pass.

Q. What are the benefits-and risks-of exercise as we age?

A.  Research suggests that even moderate exercise and physical activity can help you maintain or partly restore your strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. Those who continue to exercise into their later adult years in fact tend to slow down the aging process.

However, as we get older our bone density decreases, our muscles begin to decrease in size, tendons and ligaments are less elastic, and our balance can diminish. For a seasoned athlete who continues to exercise vigorously-or even someone who participates in their favorite sport moderately-these normal changes to the body pose an increased risk for injury. Overuse injury among athlete 45 to 64 years of age, is markedly more common compared to an individual in their early twenties.  In fact in 2008 there were approximately 166,000 ER visits for exercise related complaints in this patient population.

Q.   What are aging athletes' main injury concerns?

A.   For the most part, athletes over the age of 50 who are still involved competitively in sports multiple times per week are most concerned about an acute injury that temporarily halts their ability to exercise and compete.

Former athletes, or those who were dedicated to a particular sport in their younger years and therefore were in good physical condition, may become less involved over the years. As their participation wanes, they become deconditioned, which sets them up for degenerative issues like tendonitis.

Younger, yet none-the-less aging, athletes may have a history of frequent injury. Despite chronic swelling or trauma, they continue to participate in demanding sports.

Q.   How can aging sports enthusiasts decrease their risk of injury?

A.   There are a number of preventative steps to take to decrease the risk of common aches and pains aging athletes experience.

As we grow older our bodies take more time to recover from a strenuous workout.  One technique of active rest is altering your sport periodically or cross training. If you are a runner, try working in some cycling or swimming.

Flexibility is also crucial to avoiding muscle and tendon injuries. Good flexibility also enables your body to align properly which goes a long way in preventing overuse injuries. More and more frequently I recommend yoga for my older patients.  Some form of strengthening exercises also helps the body absorb impact from different sports and helps to prevent osteoporosis.

And one of the most important things to remember as an aging athlete is aerobic conditioning. The risk of heart disease, among many other cardiovascular issues, can be greatly reduced by maintaining adequate aerobic endurance.  If you have not been active in exercising for some time and have other medical problems, see your doctor to make sure that your heart is healthy and for advice on sports and activities that fit your fitness level.

Also make sure to fuel your body properly.  A well balanced diet and calcium and Vitamin D supplementation can help keep you muscles and bones healthy.

Q.  What should we do if we are injured?

A.  Many people believe our bodies simply stop working because of our age. That's a misconception. Our bodies grow old because we stop moving. To keep moving, don't ignore pain. Pain is a sign that something is wrong.

I recommend that conditioned athletes-and the occasional enthusiast-seek medical attention for:

  • A head, neck, back or pelvic injury
  • Any obvious deformity
  • Pain that limits your daily activities or wakes you up at night
  • Signs of shock, such as pale, clammy skin
  • If a bone sticks through the skin
  • Increased pain, numbness or swelling

For more information on athletic injuries or an appointment with Dr. Hofer, contact Orthopaedic Specialists at 494-4900.