Over 50 and Avoiding Sports Injuries

Whether you are an athlete competing in this year's Senior Olympics or a senior taking up a sport for the first time, exercise specialists from BJC HealthCare explain that seniors can avoid many of the common injuries experienced by those over 50 by understanding the special needs of their aging bodies.

Some of the most common senior sports injuries include muscle strains to the neck, back, shoulder, knee and ankle. Many of these areas become stiff from lack of use or weakened from ailments such as osteoporosis. The calf and hip muscles are usually the biggest problem areas.

"Calf muscles tend to be tight because seniors often become more rigid in the lower extremities to compensate for balance problems," said Amy Smoot, exercise specialist at the BJC Rehabilitation and Spine Center. "Other common injuries are to the knee and from falling down because of poor balance."

Smoot recommends the following ways to prevent injuries:

  • Stand on one leg for up to 30 seconds to build muscle strength and improve balance

  • Be sure to warm up for at least 10 minutes before exercising or taking part in a sporting event; this will increase circulation and prepare the muscles and joints for the activity; for example, perform an aerobic activity such as walking at a decreased intensity and then perform flexibility exercises

  • Participating in one sport can lead to the overuse of specific muscles; cross-training (alternating physical activities) helps cut down on the repetitive use of muscles by using different muscles

  • Seniors interested in starting a strength training program should start with strength training machines and then progress to free weights with proper guidance

  • Be sure to allow time for a cool-down period after exercising so that your heart can accommodate the change; the cool-down should last at least 10 minutes and should be similar to the warm-up

  • Always check with a physician before starting a new exercise program or sport

In addition to muscle strains, seniors are susceptible to extreme heat and can suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke if appropriate precautions are not taken. When participating in sports during the summer months, seniors should drink plenty of water or sports drinks, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing and be aware of the signs of heat stress. These signs include: thirst, tiredness, grogginess and visual disturbance.