|It's Monday morning and you're sitting at your desk thinking about the great time you had over the weekend at your neighborhood's third-annual flag football game. Suddenly, your boss summons you to his office. As you stand up, you realize your back feels like it's been kidney-punched by Muhammed Ali, your hamstrings have shrunk three inches, and your left ankle has grown to twice its normal size: you are suffering from the Monday blues of the weekend warrior.
A weekend warrior is anyone who shuns exercise during the week, but partakes in some kind of strenuous physical activity on the weekend. In many cases, this activity is too vigorous, and often results in injury. There is no need to put away that mountain bike, but educating yourself can go a long way toward avoiding injury and insuring that come Monday morning, you can still work as hard as you play.
What Ails You?
One of the most common injuries suffered by weekend warriors is the strain. A strain is the stretching-and in the worst case, tearing-of the muscle tissue or the tissue that makes up your tendons. A tendon is a band of connective tissue that attaches your muscles to your bones. The most severe strains are tears of the tissue, which result in painful movement, swelling, and, in the worst cases, subcutaneous bleeding or bruising.
Most post-physical activity soreness can be categorized as a strain. They usually occur as a result of not being properly warmed-up or stretched prior to and after activity.
A sprain, on the other hand, is a stretching or tearing of a ligament. Your ligaments are fibrous connective tissue structures that connect one end of a bone to another.
A sprain is often caused by acute trauma-either indirectly from a fall or bad twist, or from a direct collision. First-degree sprains are categorized by pain and discomfort to the ligament, with minimal to no joint laxity or looseness; in other words, even though there's pain, the actual joint is still taut and stable. Second-degree sprains involve partial tears of the ligaments, increased pain, increased swelling, loss of function, and difficulty with movement. Third-degree sprains are associated with complete tears of the ligaments, loss of stability, and in some cases, dislocation.
Treating Sprains and Strains
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are the four cardinal rules for injury treatment. By immediately adhering to these rules, you can significantly reduce the pain and discomfort of your injury and your overall healing time will be reduced.
Apply ice to the injured area immediately following the injury. You should keep the ice on for 15 minutes, remove it for 15 minutes, and then reapply. Repeat that cycle as many times as possible during the next 48 hours. Always put a layer of tissue or cloth between your skin and the ice to avoid any negative reactions to the cold.
If you are ever in doubt as to the severity of your injury or you notice that it is not getting better over a period of time, you should have an x-ray taken. In some cases, particularly in sprains, there is an associated fracture of the involved bone. The most severe sprains and strains may require surgery or physical rehabilitation, so a doctor's visit is essential.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
So you think you're ready for that pick-up game this Saturday? Well, if you haven't done anything to tune your body before tip-off, you may very well end up stiff as a board with an ice pack strapped to your leg by Monday.
The best way to prevent injury and soreness is to condition your body by participating in some sort of physical activity a few times during the week. If your event requires running or sprinting, it is a good idea to do some jogging or cardiovascular conditioning before heading onto the field.
By building your body's cardiovascular endurance, you will build the strength of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments as well as decreasing fatigue. Most injury incurred by weekend warriors comes as a secondary product of fatigue. For example, if your quadriceps muscles are not in shape, you're very likely to have weak and injury-prone knees that give out sooner than later.
Stretch, stretch, stretch. It is a good idea to stretch your muscles on a daily basis to increase their elasticity and durability. Tight muscles are the primary causes of muscle strains. By increasing their elasticity, they are less likely to tear or cramp during your weekend event.
Spend a few minutes each morning stretching your major muscle groups. On game day, don't go rushing right onto the field. Spend a good 10 or 15 minutes stretching your legs, your shoulders, your back, and all the muscle groups related to your activity. To help prevent soreness the next day, it is also a good idea to do some stretching after you are off the field to help bring fresh blood and nutrients to the area.
Always warm up before participating in any physical activity. When your muscles are cold, they are less elastic and very prone to overstretching or tearing. Take a few laps around the court or field-don't exhaust yourself, but you should be on the verge of breaking into a slight sweat. The increased blood flow will bring the warmth to the muscles needed for your sport.
Junk food and heavy meals will only slow you down and give you insufficient energy to perform at your peak level. You should eat a good balanced meal three hours before you play and drink plenty of water before, during, and after your event.
Many injuries each year are due to poorly fitting shoes or the wrong type of shoe for your activity. When making your shoe selection, keep in mind the type of surface you will be playing on and wear an appropriate shoe. Make sure your shoe fits properly. If you are prone to ankle sprains, it is a good idea to invest in a pair of high-top shoes for added ankle and foot support.
Finally, take it slow. If it's your first time out, don't try to perform like you did in your high school lacrosse championships; play for a limited time and increase your participation as your body becomes better conditioned. Most of the Monday blues comes from weekend warriors going full tilt for an extended period of time-far beyond their bodies' capabilities. You might not feel it at the time, but come Monday, you'll be kicking yourself in the rear for overdoing it-if you can move your leg.