Not to pick on the “weekend warriors” but those that continue to play soccer, basketball and tennis into the 30’s, 40’s and beyond are unfortunately at increased risk for injury. One of the most dreaded weekend warrior injuries? Achilles Tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon is the most commonly ruptured tendon in the body, often requiring surgery and 6-12 months of rehabilitation.
Achilles tendon rupture has increased in frequency since the 1980’s due to increased participation in sporting activities, especially sports like tennis, soccer and basketball. Men over the age of 30 with sedentary occupations (a scientific way of saying weekend warrior) are at greatest risk for Achilles tendon injury. Often those that experience the injury first suffer from chronic tendon problems prior to the injury.
However, regardless of gender, athletic activity is a risk factor for Achilles tendon injury as most of these injuries can occur to men or women during sports that require sudden accelerations and jumping.
While there is still debate within the medical community about the cause of Achilles tendon ruptures, researchers agree that decreased blood flow in a critical area of the tendon can lead to degeneration and eventual vulnerability of the tendon. Once the tendon is weakened, an overwhelming load from a jump or quick start can result in a tear. Think a tennis player trying to get an opponent’s drop shot or jumping to get a basketball rebound.
What causes this increased stress to the Achilles tendon? One theory suggests that the calf muscles of those that tear their Achilles tendon have lost the coordination and strength that stems from a lack of use and reduced blood flow, possibly reflecting lost conditioning.
As a major contributing factor to Achilles injury is sedentary behavior, maintenance of exercise may deter a future Achilles problem. Regular exercise can prevent the structural changes that can lead to Achilles rupture. What’s more, strengthening may be more important than stretching as a study of Army recruits suggested that diminished calf strength and increased calf/Achilles flexibility were predisposing factors for Achilles tendon problems.
Additionally, Stanford researchers found that neither a standard program of warming-up nor stretching had any effect on the mechanical properties of the Achilles tendon, indicating that a physically active lifestyle is more the foundation of injury prevention rather than the minutes leading up to activity. Researchers have also hypothesized that the inhibitory effect of pre-exercise stretching on muscular strength may also contribute to increased risk of injury.
What does all this mean? It means that before starting that softball league or master’s tennis program, start hitting the gym for cardiovascular exercise and calf strengthening. If you haven’t done any exercise for an extended period of time, start your new activity slowly. The calf workout should include a focus on the eccentric or lowering portion of the exercise.
Do all this and you can become a “weekly warrior” not just a weekend one.
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