Sports injuries and the injuries of the Aging Jock

Dr. Norman B. Gaylis

One of the most common complaints that I am asked to treat in my practice is the early retired male or female patient who has waited his/her whole life to be able to have the time and opportunity to essentially play golf or tennis seven days a week. I mention these two sports as they are probably the most common sports that retired individuals either take up for the first time or start increasing their playing time dramatically upon retirement.

While the desire, the concept and the enjoyment of being able to play golf or tennis daily as opposed to only on the weekends sounds fantastic, in fact, it probably causes more people to have shattered dreams and depression rather than actually providing the anticipated pleasure that had been expected.

Unfortunately, our bodies as they grow older are not meant to play repetitive sports on a daily basis. Furthermore, most people who have been working for most of their lives do not have the style or mechanics to avoid problems occurring when they start utilizing their body inappropriately on a repetitive basis.

In golf, the most common problems that I see are tendonitis of the elbows and fingers and pain and pinched nerve – like symptoms occurring in the neck and the back.

I can treat the acute inflammation with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications, local anti-inflammatory steroid injections, however, these forms of treatment service only to reduce the acute pain. It is extremely important that the player/patient understands that they should try and stretch and warm up prior to their golf game. The older one gets, the more time should be devoted to stretching. In fact, spending more time loosening up and stretching would provide more benefit to swinging a golf club on :he range. Right now, most golfers go straight to the range where they touch their toes twice, sing a few clubs and go out on to the course. Further important advice includes adequate rest after having had a flare up. This could be reducing the schedule from five rounds of golf a week to twice, or most importantly, allowing adequate time for the body to recover from the time of the acute inflammation to the resumption of play.

Furthermore, when play is resumed one should do it in a gentle and gradual fashion and not in a sudden immediate return back to the previous schedule. At my country club, it is amazing how often I get fellow members thanking me for helping them in the short term and then avoiding me in the long term when their symptoms recur. This is primarily because they have not understood the need to allow their body to recover and then to adapt and adjust their schedule to their capabilities.

I strongly recommend for my golf patients, who have problems with their hands, that they consider built up club handles which reduce the pressure across the joints and the allow the grip to be firm without being harmful. I also recommend cardiovascular activities to increase one’s stamina and muscle tone, and as mentioned, performing stretching exercises on a daily basis in particular, before a round of golf is critical.

For my tennis-playing patients, their main complaints relate to their back and knees and to a lesser extent, their neck and shoulders. The recommendations are very similar in some ways to my golf patients. They need to reduce their regular repetitive action of one game and cross train by performing other activities such as swimming or biking.

This would be extremely beneficial. The choice of a soft clay court surface is far more desirable than beating ones joints up on a hard surface as we often find here in Florida. And finally, as in golf, building up the racquet handle and performing gentle range of movement exercises for the upper body allows the player to gradually increase their stamina and ability on and ongoing basis.

In summary, having more time to play may unfortunately result in less playing time due to injuries. To get the most out of ones retirement with regards to golf and tennis, one needs to approach it in a sensible and methodical fashion. There needs to be more emphasis on choice of equipment, improving Cardiovascular and musculoskeletal tone, and stretching prior to playing, than on actually, playing the game itself.

I hope this article will help some people get more fun out of life and I welcome your comments one way or another.

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