It was Harding’s first serious injury and fortunately not a career ender. She needed surgery and rehab but was back on the court after six months. For pro athletes, dealing with injuries is part of the game. Says Harding: “It’s a job hazard.”
Whether you’re a professional or amateur, the challenge in any sport is to get close to your limits without going over them, says Richard Reff, a Bethesda orthopedist. Unfortunately, he adds, “man doesn’t know his limits until he’s exceeded them.” But taking precautions can reduce your chances of getting hurt.
Warm up and stretch before you jump into an activity, says Benjamin Shaffer, an orthopedist in Chevy Chase and downtown DC. “Muscles are prone to injury when they’re cold,” he says. “But people go on the tennis court, they’re a little late, and they start whaling away at the ball.”
Shaffer suggests three to five minutes on a stationary bike or walking—any low-impact activity to get the blood flowing. Follow with slow and gentle stretches, holding each for 30 seconds. Then warm down and stretch after a workout.
Instead of trying to get in shape overnight, orthopedist Kenneth M. Fine suggests following the 10-percent rule: increasing your distance, time, or intensity by no more than 10 percent a week. Giving yourself time to recover is key, especially as you get older. “There’s a perception that if you miss a day or two, you’re going to decondition yourself,” Reff says. But if you’re in good shape, it takes a while to lose fitness.
The amount of recovery time an athlete needs can vary widely. The younger and fitter you are, the less time it takes your body to rebound. Reff advises breaking up your workouts with a different activity as needed.
But the risk of injury shouldn’t keep you from staying fit. “If you’re active and work out, inevitably you’re going to have some injuries,” Fine says. “But the rewards of exercise outweigh the risks.” You may end up spending more time with a sports-medicine doctor, he says, but you’ll probably see the cardiologist, oncologist, and psychiatrist less.
>> Turn the page for some of the most common sports injuries, with advice on how to prevent and treat them.