Tips for Older Adults: Ways to Avoid Injuries During Sports and Exercise
by Karen Asp
Your Aging Body
Our bodies change with age. We may not like it, but at least most changes are gradual. One thing that does not change as we age is our need for physical activity. Physical activity keep us both mentally and physically healthy. But before you head out the door, learn why your risk for injury is higher as you get older.
As we get older, tendons and ligaments lose some of their elasticity. This can lead to reduced range of motion in the joints, making these areas more prone to injuries. And unfortunately, older bodies tend to take a bit longer to recover from injuries.
Aging can also mean a loss in muscle. This loss usually begins in the mid-forties (earlier if you are inactive) and may decline as much as 10% after the age of 50. This muscle loss can certainly mean a decline in physical abilities and make it easier to gain weight. Fortunately, regular exercise can significantly slow this muscle loss. If you do not use your muscles regularly, the tissues become weaker and less compliant.
Although older adults accumulate a variety of injuries, the most common injuries involve sprains (stretching or tearing of a ligament) and strains (stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon) around the shoulders, knees, and ankles. These injuries may only cause minor soreness or stiffness. People often do not recognize soreness as a problem, and they work through the pain. This may lead to more soreness and injury. Other common injuries you may be familiar with are tennis elbow, Achilles tendinopathy, and shin splints.
A few safety steps will help you keep safe while staying strong.
How to Avoid Injury
If you want to live a longer, more productive life, you have to exercise most days. You may need to exercise at a lower pace or for shorter periods of time than you did when you were younger. Remember that you may not be able to play hoops to the level of your 30-year-old colleagues, or play as many back-to-back tennis matches as you once could.
Make modifications to your routine and play smart. Before you get started, follow these tips so you can avoid injury:
Older age no longer means less activity. In fact, it means quite the opposite. The more active you are the better your body will age. Play smart, listen to your body, and you will find more abilities than limits.
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Public Heath of Canada Healthy Living Unit
Effects of Aging. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00191. Updated September 2009. Accessed December 3, 2012.
Making Physical Activity a Part of an Older Adult's Life. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov.... November 9, 2011. Accessed December 3, 2012.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/. Updated October 16, 2008. Accessed December 3, 2012.
Sports Injury Prevention for Baby Boomers. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00178. Updated August 2011. Accessed December 3, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD