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Weekend Warriors are Medical Disasters Waiting to Happen

July 6, 2011

Sam shook off his aching shoulder and got ready for another play. “Jim go long, and I’ll hit you when you’re near the end zone.” Jim took off like a rocket and pounded across the field. Sam cocked his arm back and gave it everything he had. Right as Sam released the ball, he felt a snap in his shoulder, and then one of the guys smashed him from the side and knocked him onto his back.

Racing toward the end zone Jim caught the ball. 32-year-old Harry, a former Trojan tight end, easily caught up with him. It was a perfect throw and a perfect catch, but when Jim cut to the side to get away from Harry, POP went his knee, and he didn’t need to get tackled to go down. But, he was in the end zone, and the sales department beat the engineering department to win the game! Some people all the way over at a picnic table heard the pop, and groaned.

Game over. Sam couldn’t raise his arm above shoulder level, and Jim had to be helped back to the company table. Somebody called an ambulance because they thought Sam was having a stroke. Might as well take Jim too, because by the time the paramedics arrived on the scene his knee had swelled up like a balloon. Everyone else packed up the leftovers and herded the kids toward the parking lot.

  • “So when’s the last time you played ball?” asked the orthopedist.
  • “I was high school quarterback,” said Sam.” We won district.”
  • “That was 30 years ago,” said the doc, looking at his chart. “Have you played since then?”
  • “Once or twice,” said Sam. “It’s like riding a bicycle.”
  • “Do you ride bicycles now?” asked the doctor. He had already figured that Sam had a rotator cuff tear, probably a massive one.
  • “No,” said Sam, “Doc what are you getting at?”
  • “A picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s get an MRI,” the doc said. A few days later. the study showed a degenerative tear with 2 cm retraction – a big gap where the rotator cuff tendon was supposed to be. “It’s going to be a tough surgery, and rehab will take 4-8 months,” said the doc. “Even then you won’t have a normal shoulder.”
  • “You mean my football days are over?” said Sam. He was quite uncomfortable about what the doc had said.
  • “Sam, your football days were over a long time ago,” said the doc. He handed Sam a referral to see an internist for pre-op clearance.

Meanwhile, because of his insurance plan, Jim was having a hard time getting to see an orthopedist, and even worse he had a high deductible. When he finally got in 2 weeks later and got his MRI, it showed a complete ACL rupture, an MCL tear, and a torn meniscus. He was scheduled for a reconstruction. He was only 37 years old.

The typical orthopedic surgeon will see half a dozen men a week with sports injuries, men who are past their prime and go out on weekends to recapture their past glory as star athletes, or guys who just want to have some rough fun. A few beers at the company picnic, a few degenerating joints, and some uneven ground for a playing field can become a middle age nightmare and a surgeon’s dream.

Even men in fairly good shape can end up with weekend warrior injuries. Fortunately, most aren’t as dramatic as Sam and Jim’s.

Bicep Tendon rupture, Rotator Cuff Tendonitis and tears, (tendonitis can occur almost anywhere in the body), Plantar Fasciitis and heel pain, spinal problems…the list goes on, and the injuries are so common that many guys in middle age already know a lot about them. They can sideline someone for a good while. More important than running on with textbook descriptions is the following advice:

  • Do not engage in contact sports or uncontrolled strenuous activity if you’re over 35
  •  unless you’re willing to take the pain.

So what are controlled activities?

  • Walking, running, swimming, cycling
  • Light weight training, golf, doubles tennis, bowling
  • Hiking, cardio boxing

Uncontrolled activities and contact sports to avoid:

  • Throwing martial arts, contact boxing
  • Baseball, basketball, football
  • Mountain climbing, skiing, snowboarding

In-between activities:

  • Heavier weight training, non-throwing martial arts,
  • Singles tennis, skateboarding, many others

This is just one list. You’ll find many, and you should research your particular activity.

GUYS WHO CAN BREAK THESE RULES should be hardened by years of training, and know the warning signs of injury and how to prevent them. If you’re not sure, get a skilled trainer to put you through the paces and see what your body can handle. Weekend Warriors may get away with it for a while, but it’s almost certain that problems and injuries will begin to add up as you age, become less fit, or over-exert yourself.

Some literature on prevention recommends:

  • Maintaining fitness, and regular stretching and strengthening,
  • Warm-up and cool-down periods
  • Increasing activity level slowly
  • Using proper equipment.
  • Avoiding hazards, such as poles, fences, broken glass, rough terrain, and rocks.

Don’t be a Weekend Warrior. Be physically fit enough to perform the activities you choose or be at risk for pain and injury.

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