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Banged Up and Bruised Boomers

Weekend Warriors
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

October 16, 2001 -- On vacation in San Francisco a few years ago, Mary Duffy, a 45-year-old writer, thought she'd give a circuit training class a try. At one point, the class required her to jump on a mini-trampoline. "I kept jumping higher and higher when suddenly I came down on the frame and my ankle buckled," says Duffy, who lives in New York. "I ended up in the emergency room with a fracture. It took a year and a lot of physical therapy before I could start exercising again."

Eventually Duffy did get back to her usual running workouts and stationary cycling classes. But it wasn't long before another problem developed: debilitating knee pain, an injury her doctors attributed to overuse, and which landed her in physical therapy again. "I think a lot of it has to do with age," she says. "I used to be able to go out on the weekend and do something active and not feel anything, even when I hadn't exercised all week. Now everything hurts."

There's actually a name for what ails Duffy: "boomeritis," a term coined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It refers to the growing number of sports injuries among baby boomers. Boomeritis is so rampant, says the AAOS, that the organization has trademarked the term and developed a web site ( geared toward helping those who suffer from it.

Tip of the Iceberg

Indeed, the numbers do suggest that there's cause for concern. According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report released in 1999, the sheer plentitude of baby boomers has led to a record number of hospital emergency room visits: In 1998, ERs treated more than one million sports injuries sustained by people born between 1946 and 1964 -- a 33% increase from seven years earlier.

"And that's probably just the tip of the iceberg because most people with sports injuries aren't badly enough hurt to go to the emergency room," says Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who worked with the AAOS to get the word out about boomeritis. "The next thing we need to look at is how many people are going to doctors' offices for sports injuries."

In the Consumer Product Safety report, bicycle riding was the most common activity to send baby boomers (66,100 of them) to the ER. Basketball was the second most common culprit (48,230 treated); unspecified forms of exercise and running came in third (32,370); and skiing, fourth (28,150). The data, though, don't include any statistics about tendinitis in the shoulders and arthritis in the knees, conditions that DiNubile believes may be even more common. These problems are generally the result of years of wear and tear on the body. Or of overuse -- that is, simply doing the same thing over and over again until the body finally objects. (A swimmer's simple act of slicing her arm through water day after day is a perfect example).

By drawing attention to injuries among baby boomers, the AAOS isn't trying to dissuade people from exercising. Quite the opposite -- the group advises boomers to stay active because being sedentary is much more of a health risk than injury from exercise. Yet middle-aged bodies aren't as resilient as they used to be; by encouraging boomers to acknowledge this, the AAOS also hopes to get them to start exercising more safely.

How can you avoid being sidelined by injury? Here are some important steps DiNubile recommends:

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