Ready for fall sports? Read this

Ready for fall sports? Read this

Touchdown, finish line and goal are the familiar words associated with fall sports. Unfortunately, sprain, injury and cast can also be common this time of year.

Dr. Mark Neault, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., offers pre-season advice suitable for athletes on and off the playing field.

How do you implement stretching and recovery for both young and mature athletes to prevent the overuse of injuries?

Stretching is often overlooked while training for sports. Dr. Neault stresses that not enough time is spent on this activity, and stretching both before and after exercise can help reduce the chance of experiencing injuries. You may not know this, but cross training involves not only cardio and strength, but also flexibility.

“The warm-up portion of any fall sport is necessary, as it gets the blood flowing in your muscles, which then allows you to stretch more effectively,” he says.

To improve flexibility, Dr. Neault suggests yoga; it allows you to engage in various poses and expand muscles that you may not be used to working.

Young athletes, in particular, should focus on flexibility because they are constantly growing, causing muscles to become tight. Working on overall flexibility will help stretch their bodies.

Another reminder?

“Recovery includes down time. I advise athletes to mix up their exercise routine,” says Dr. Neault. “Run one or two days, bike, use weights (even just body weight activity) and have an off day.”

What are some ways to prep for contact sports like football and hockey?

Dr. Neault recommends athletes participate in conditioning, attend, voluntary camps or pre-season workouts and make sure equipment is properly fitted. When reviewing equipment, he strongly encourages seeking guidance from pro shops or experienced coaches.

“For proper fit, consider the growth of the athlete. This often sneaks up on parents, and simple equipment like elbow pads are commonly overlooked. One size too small could result in an injury,” he says.

Helmets are another critical aspect of many fall sports — nothing eliminates the risk of a concussion. Dr. Neault explains when determining if a helmet is properly fitted, include the chin strap size and cage on the helmet because these aspects have as much value, or even more, than the material the helmet is made of.

“It may be necessary to replace your helmet, even if it fits. Think of all the collisions helmets often take,” Dr. Neault emphasizes.

ACL injury: To repair or not to repair?

Even when taking precautionary measures, sport-related injuries can still occur. Dr. Neault mentions out of all injuries, ACL injuries tend to top the list.

According to Dr. Neault, ACL reconstruction is an elective procedure, and in many cases, surgery can be delayed until when it is most convenient. Though it’s important to keep in mind stability of the knee, activity level, sport or occupation and age all play a role in whether surgery is necessary.

“Rarely is ACL surgery done immediately. If an ACL injury occurs, usually wait four to six weeks to allow the swelling to settle and wait for range of motion to restore and the knee to recover overall,” he says.

More active people may require their ACL for sports, which can result in the decision for surgery. An alternative option is a special brace that can offer knee stability for more strenuous activity.

There is also a difference when caring for youth ACL injuries versus adults. For youth, Dr. Neault advises reconstructing the ACL in order to prevent additional cartilage injury. As for adults, there is a variable approach.

“Start with physical therapy to strengthen the supporting structure that assists the ACL. However, if you experience continued instability, not necessarily pain, surgery may be indicated,” he says.

Above all? Training and caring for injuries in the appropriate ways can help athletes feel more confident and prepared throughout the new sports season.

Take our Joint Pain Assessment to evaluate your knees and hips, gauge the severity of your issues and figure out what you could do moving forward. 

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About the Author

Kelsey Andeway
Kelsey Andeway

Kelsey Andeway, health e-news contributor, is a public affairs intern at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago earning a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Dance. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing, baking, and taking long walks with her Chocolate Lab.