Every athlete, from dedicated daily gym rat to casual weekend warrior, has more than likely suffered an injury. Or injuries. The occasional nick or twist or even break are all part and parcel of staying active after we enter post-scholastic life. There’s even a catchy term for it: boomeritis.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, doctors acknowledge that baby boomers — people born in the approximately 20 years following World War II — are generally more active than previous generations. For these older athletes, staying active has added quality, and often quantity, to their years.
At the same time, most boomers must accept the reality that they can’t push their bodies as hard as they once did. Muscles and connective tissue — tendons and ligaments — are simply not as pliable, not as elastic as they were.
“Our joints, our bodies, weren’t designed to last forever,” said my older brother, Dr. John J. O’Connor III, a surgeon with Concord Orthopaedics in New Hampshire, while reviewing an X-ray of my worn-out hips a few years back. “We like to think they will, but that’s just not how they were built.”
Still, that doesn’t mean we have to quit after getting hurt, or take injuries lying down. We just need to be smart and treat ourselves with a little TLC, said Dr. Bojan Zoric, of Sports Medicine North in Peabody.
“Just like returning from any injury in any sport, it should never be zero to 100 percent activity,” said Zoric, who, like O’Connor, has worked with the US Ski Team as well as the US Women’s National Soccer Team. “It’s really important to be in touch with whoever is treating you for that injury, whether a therapist or a physician, because there are strengths that are required for you to return to these sports.
“If you’re not back to that strength or level of condition, you’re putting yourself at higher risk for repeat injury and a second injury because you’re compensating for the first injury,” he said.
Returning from injury isn’t much different from maintaining an active lifestyle in the first place. You need to pay close attention to your body, listening for telltale signs that you’re going overboard. Here are some basic guidelines, with assists from the orthopedic surgeons group and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, to keep you moving, pain-free:
■ Start gradually. Since cold (or tight) muscles are more prone to injury, always warm up and stretch before getting active. This is especially true once the temperatures outside begin to drop. Jumping jacks, stationary cycling, or jogging or walking in place all work. “Do windmills with your arms, swing your legs back and forth, and do abdominal twists to loosen up,” Zoric said.
■ Engage in active recovery. Once I became a parent, the “cool down” portion of my workouts suffered. I’d rush home from my bike ride, run, or hockey game to spend time with my girls, forgetting the importance of this step. Easy, steady stretching following exercise is crucial not only to recover but also to prepare your body for the next workout and/or game.
■ Move every day. Squeezing all our exercise into the weekends is a recipe for injury. Incorporate a half-hour of moderate activity into every day. Schedule it like any other appointment. Little things, like walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and parking farther from your destination (to encourage more walking) all add up.
■ Progress slowly. Keep the “10 percent” rule in mind when bumping up your workout intensity or frequency. Don’t expect to jump from jogging around the block to running a marathon. Your body needs time to adapt. The 10 percent rule holds whether you’re running, walking, cycling, swimming, or lifting weights. Take the long view.
■ Get the balance right. Another critical factor for older athletes is avoiding muscle imbalance. Adopt a program that features flexibility, cardiovascular work, and strength training. Mix in different types of workouts, such as yoga or Pilates, to improve elasticity. Don’t forget your core, which is vital to keeping all those moving parts in sync.
■ Seek advice. Whether it’s a personal trainer, a fitness class, or sport-specific instruction (such as for skiing or snowboarding), getting lessons from a knowledgeable coach is invaluable. By developing an age-specific regimen and focusing on good technique, you can avoid overuse injuries such as shin splints and tendonitis. If you do get hurt — things like tendonitis, arthritis, a stress fracture, or lower back pain — don’t shy away from consulting an orthopedic surgeon who, together with a physical therapist, can design a fitness routine that reduces the risk of a repeat injury.
■ Pamper yourself. Get good equipment. Whether that means a quality pair of walking or running or athletic shoes (yes, there are differences), supportive ice skates or ski boots, or a properly fitted bicycle or kayak, the right gear can aid in injury prevention, as well as in performance. Consider it an investment in yourself. That’s money well spent.
If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.