The Weekend Warrior
You’re at a higher risk of sports injury than you realize
By Elyse Notarianni

We all know at least one Weekend Warrior  – someone who spends their week hunched over a computer screen, but on the weekends transforms into their kickball league MVP or their club’s pickleball champion.   

While it’s great to be active, those weekend warriors may not realize they are putting themselves at a much higher risk of injury.

Couch to 5K? Not ok

Weekend warriors come in with all kinds of injuries – muscle tears, strains, sprains, tendinitis, inflammation, shin splints, you name it, says Michelle Noreski, DO, a Cooper University Health Care Sports Medicine Specialist.

Michelle Noreski, DO

“Organized sports aren’t as common the older we get, which means if we want to stay active, we’re usually picking up a tennis match or round of golf here and there instead,” she says. “It’s the couch-to-5K mentality – people think they can just jump right in, and they can’t.”

If you spend the majority of your time sitting, when the weekend rolls around, it’s likely your muscles aren’t strong or flexible enough to support this sudden change in routine. “Especially in more high-velocity sports where you have to jump or twist pretty quickly, one misstep can tear a muscle that’s too tight or too weak to support that movement,” says Noreski.

Prepare your body – all week long

A 5-minute stretch before the game isn’t going to cut it, adds Noreski. The key is a combination of stretching and cardiovascular movement – not just before the activity, but throughout the week. 

“If you want to do these activities on the weekends, make sure to prep your body during the week,” she says. “Stay well hydrated. Add in walks, stretching, yoga and strength training to your daily routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.”

“Most importantly, pay attention to how your body feels,” says Noreski.

Working from home can hurt 

If you spend your day hunched over a computer screen or slumped into the couch while working from home, it’s time to make some changes, says Kathleen Baumgardner, DC, Clinic Director at Health Goals Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Marlton.

Kathleen Baumgardner, DC

“So much of your muscle strength – or weakness – is a direct result of your posture,” says Baumgardner. “When you keep these muscles strong and aligned, you protect so many other areas of your body.”

Your body is a system, and each muscles’ strength or weakness can affect another, she says. Core strength, for example, protects every muscle in your body by making sure no other muscles are overused. The muscles near your rotator cuff protect your shoulders, which create a strong base for your neck muscles. Those strong neck muscles, in turn, protect the nerves that emanate through the rest of your shoulders, elbows, wrists and spine. 

“Pull your shoulders back, pick your head up, activate your core, even if you’re just walking,” she says. “Your body will thank you.”

Hone your technique

Whatever activity you choose, even if it’s just a hobby, it doesn’t hurt to let go of your ego and take a lesson, says Baumgardner. 

“Some of the most common upper-body injuries we see are shoulder and elbow strain, and most of that comes from poor mechanics,” she says. “When you don’t have the right mechanics, your muscles are both overused and misused.”

If an injury does occur because you’re using an incorrect technique, make sure it heals correctly, says Baumgardner.

“So many people wait 3 or 4 months for the pain to subside, and while it may have healed, it may not have healed correctly,” she says. “A pain in your shoulder may go away in time, but you may find a new pain in your neck. That’s because the original injury healed the wrong way, and the neck muscles are now working overtime to support the weakness in your shoulder.”

When you hear a pop

In the lower extremities, you’re more likely to see ligament tears, like a torn Achilles tendon in your heel or injured meniscus in your knee, says Merrick Wetzler, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocare South Jersey Orthopedic Associates.

Merrick Wetzler, MD

“We typically see these issues in people in their 40s and 50s,” he says. “They’re running after a ball, they hear a pop, and all of a sudden they’re out for 4 to 6 weeks.” 

The common misconception, he says, is that you need to do something big to warrant a muscle tear. When in reality, even the smallest movement in the wrong direction at the wrong time can bring it on – especially when your muscles aren’t properly warmed up.

“It happens quickly,” he says. “You could be stepping up to the plate at your office baseball league or even getting into your car. You hear a pop, and that’s it.” 

Because muscles work together, stretching and strengthening one area can protect another. So if you’re looking to avoid these tears, you may want to focus on your flexibility in your quads, hamstrings and hip flexors as well as strengthening your core, he says.

Know when to seek care

“Muscle soreness is normal, but if you hear a crack or pop, if it’s hard to bear weight, if it feels unstable, or if the pain is sharp, you need to get it checked out,” says Wetzler. 

“But if you’re trying to avoid this altogether, it’s simple – don’t try to go from zero to 100,” says Wetzler. “If you do, you’re risking an injury that brings you right back down to zero before you even know what happened.” 


August 2023
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