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Overuse Injuries Soar as Baby Boomers Turn 50


WebMD Health News

Jan. 1, 2000 (Atlanta) -- The incidence of injuries caused by overuse has exploded in recent years among fitness crazed baby boomers, according to presenters at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Despite its risks, doctors say exercise has countless benefits and most overuse injuries are preventable.

"The baby boomers are one segment of the population that really understands the importance of exercise," says Nicholas DiNubile, MD, one of the speakers and a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at University of Pennsylvania. "But they get into trouble when they try to perform they way they did at 20. As a group, we're seeing many more baby boomers with torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments." DiNubile tells WebMD that aging bodies are predisposed to overuse injuries.

"As we age, our reaction time increases and our joints have less lubrication. Also, our muscles, tendons and ligaments are less elastic. The Achilles tendon in the bottom of the foot is a good example. It becomes fatty, spongy, and tears much more easily," says DiNubile. These aging changes are likely to affect the growing number of senior citizens exercising regularly.

Since 1987, there has been an increase of more than 75% in the number of seniors who work out frequently, according to a report by American Sports Data Research. In response, some health clubs now offer special training areas with the sound tracks and equipment preferred by seniors.

Doctors who specialize in caring for the elderly applaud this trend.

"Exercise is truly the fountain of youth," says Patricia Bloom, MD, the chief of gerontology at St. Luke's Roosevelt Medical Center and associate clinical professor at Columbia University. "There's a lot of good data that shows exercise decreases the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, colon cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, and depression. And it improves muscle mass, balance, strength, and sleep," she says.

"What this means is that exercise helps people live longer lives with less disability. Moving around just a little more can mean a significant improvement in health. So any risk of overuse syndrome is greatly outweighed by the benefits of exercise. And overuse injuries are largely preventable," says Bloom. Physicians specializing in sports medicine agree.

"Stretching before and after exercise is absolutely critical," says Guy Nicolette, MD, the varsity team physician and clinical assistant professor of family medicine at University of Florida. "Gradual conditioning is also very important," says Mark Hutchens, MD, the director of athletic medicine and clinical assistant professor of family medicine at University of Texas. "Weekly increases should not exceed 10% in time, distance, or intensity." Despite these measures, orthopedists say some overuse injuries are unavoidable.

"In treating overuse trauma, we usually recommend eliminating the activity that caused it, oral anti-inflammatory medication, plus stretching and strengthening exercise for two weeks. If there are no symptoms, the activity can gradually be resumed," says Peter Indelicato, MD, the chief of sports medicine and professor of orthopedic surgery at University of Florida. "In severe cases, aggressive treatment with steroid injections or surgery may be necessary."

Vital Information:

  • The number of seniors who work out regularly has increased more than 75% in the last 12 years and along with it the incidence of overuse injuries in this age group.
  • As people age, reaction time increases, joints become less lubricated, and muscles and tendons become less elastic.
  • The benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks, and many injuries can be prevented by stretching before and after exercise and conditioning gradually.

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