Fitness column: It’s repetitive stress injuries all over again
Way back in the early ’90s, I was a student athletic trainer for the hockey team at my college. I got a lot of experience dealing with nasty injuries.
There was nothing as serious a today’s injuries like “gamer’s thumb” and “tech-neck,” but it was often a struggle to keep athletes on the ice. I started to notice that some of these athletes couldn’t recover from their injuries no matter what we did. I was fortunate enough to attend a university that had a state-of-the art sports medicine facility, so we felt assured that athletes were getting the best rehabilitation possible. I just could not understand how some kids got better and some didn’t.
The older-more-experienced trainers knew about repetitive stress injuries and tried to explain the concept to me.
Repetitive stress injuries are typical musculoskeletal injuries that are caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained and/or awkward positions. I would also add insufficient recovery time as a factor. Does this describe your entire day? The sick difference is that you get paid at work to put yourself into awkward and painful positions. When you do it for sport is how it becomes an issue for a different type of therapist.
I can’t help but notice this phenomenon having worked on thousands of people over the years. Nowadays, I work with a few pretty serious athletes and a lot of average people in whom I see a lot of RSI. I wonder how much of all injuries is our own doing. It is easy to chalk everything up to “accidents,” because this conveniently waives the responsibility for the cause.
A study from The Journal Of Sports Medicine, “which analyzed injuries among athletes on 16 teams reported by athletic trainers at the University of Iowa over three years, found that more than a quarter of injuries involved overuse, and women’s sports actually had a higher rate of overuse problems than those caused by acute injuries. Whether you blame it on adults driving kids too hard, the rise of elite, super-teams that play year-round or the pursuit of elusive college athletic scholarships only a handful will ever see, specialization has become commonplace among tens of thousands of youngsters in almost every sports venue.”
I see the same behavior in adults. Not just adults — experienced, high-functioning intelligent adults who get caught up in behavioral patterns. We call these behavior patterns “ruts” when they go bad. Conversely, when behavioral patterns go well, they are called streaks.
The same pattern that enslaves us as adults I suspect we develop as children, because I watch it daily. It starts with the insane scholastic sports rat-race and goes on into adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a recovering ex-jock who had to become normal due to repetitive injuries. I couldn’t hang with the schedule. Some people can and others can’t. This is why I tell clients to allow their own body’s recovery rate to determine the training schedule and not what you read in magazines next to images of photoshopped models who do nothing but work out and go tanning all day.
The experiences and life lessons that I have gained from decades of sports are priceless. I do regret the damage that I have done to my body to fulfill scholarship obligations and for hopes of becoming a pro athlete. All that I am trying to express is that we may want to think a little before creating patterns in our kids that very well may cause them to limp around in their 40s.
How to avoid RSI
Pursue different sports and workouts. Don’t specialize. Remember that the best athletes were almost as good at just about every sport they tried — they just settle into the sport that their agent got them the most money to play. If you are truly an athlete, the type of sport you choose shouldn’t matter as much as the fact that you are doing something athletic. Obsessing over one particular sport or activity that keeps injuring you is just that.
Rest is the valley’s worst four-letter word. Realize the extent of your own abilities and be OK with that. Also realize the best thing you can do for getting better at anything is to get enough sleep and allow yourself to fully recover.
Take the seasonal break from sports and workouts as an opportunity to try new things. Remember that your own comfort zone may be the reason for a discomforting RSI.
Don’t push kids too hard into repetitive “elite super-team sports” without keeping a careful and objective eye on their state of health. Some kids thrive on the insane schedule, some crumble. Don’t use your kid to make up for your own athletic failures.
Competitiveness, obsession and ego: I am not professionally qualified to even mention these three words, but I believe that they are often the true root of the problem and sometimes lead to greatness. Exploring a little sports psychology will help you understand yourself better and usually leads to a more balanced approach to training, sports and everything else.
Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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