It’s time to say, “So long,” to winter’s bitter chill and welcome spring’s warmer, longer days. Springtime also brings fresh enthusiasm for those outdoor sports that Mother Nature put on hold.
However, if you head back to the track, field, court or course too quickly after a sedentary winter, you risk being sidelined before summer arrives.
“In the spring, we see a lot of patients with joint pain in the knees, hips and shoulders due to too much physical activity too quickly, which often causes overuse injuries,” says Stephanie Mims, PT, DPT, Director of Therapy Services and Fitness at Augusta Health.
Here are some tips to ease back into outdoor activities without injuries.
Gradually rebuild muscle strength.
“One of the quickest ways to injure yourself in spring is to pick up where you left off last autumn,” says Sarah Martin, ACE Certified Health Coach and Fitness and Nutrition Specialist at the Augusta Health Fitness Center. Why? Because fit muscles absorb the impact from repetitive motions and protect your joints. If you lose muscle fitness, your joints are defenseless against overuse injuries.
Recondition your core before swinging into spring sports.
Core muscles—including the lower back and abs—hips, glutes and pelvis give you better balance and stability, Martin says.
Injuries don’t mean you’re permanently sidelined.
It’s R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to the rescue for new, acute injuries, Martin says. She suggests sticking to light weights and comfortable stretches for older, chronic injuries. “This is a slow process, so we can gauge progress and avoid any reinjury,” she says.
Chronic joint pain can be reversed.
Whether new or old, injuries at Augusta are first treated with steps that preserve the natural joint, improve function and enhance quality of life through physical therapy and highly individualized fitness programming created by Augusta’s fitness experts, Mims says. When necessary, however, orthopedic surgery can be used for full and partial joint replacements. This can be an excellent option to regain strength, range of motion and the ability to enjoy life.
Stretches help rebuild core muscle fitness.
Martin suggests some simple moves before and after physical activity:
The cat/cow stretch and the bird dog stretch both begin on all fours, with hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
- To perform the cat/cow, drop your belly toward the floor and lift your chin toward the ceiling when inhaling (cow pose).
- Next, round your spine up toward the ceiling and bring your chin toward your chest
when exhaling (cat pose).
The bird dog
- To perform the bird dog, raise your right arm and your left leg until they are parallel to the floor, and hold this position for a few seconds. Return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your left arm and right leg. “Move a little quicker—but never fast—to warm up the body. Hold the stretch a little longer after physical activity,” Martin says.