Senior athletes have spent their whole lives pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. Unfortunately, aging bodies don’t respond the same to “toughing it out.” There are declines in muscle mass, bone mass and weakening of ligaments, tendons and cartilage to consider. Yet senior athletes are also minimizing some of this weakening by staying active, so it’s not a black and white issue. Senior athletes should not be benched, (or couched), but they also can’t ignore new limitations.
There are two important distinctions to consider when you are an orthopedic patient and also a senior athlete.
Approach to Limitations
National Institutes of Health says, “Most injuries in older athletes are chronic and overuse injuries that result in diminished flexibility and endurance. In addition, many aging athletes have medical and musculoskeletal problems that mandate tailoring athletic activity to the patient’s general health and functional requirements.”
Common overuse injuries, often aggravated by lumbar disc disease and osteoarthritis, include but are not limited to muscle strains, tendinopathy, meniscal tears and fractures. It’s also important for senior athletes to consider changes in heart, lung and blood flow capacity, which can affect reaction time (which helps prevent injury), muscle regeneration, and also general workout recovery.
Aging should not stop a senior athlete from doing what they love, but there is a difference between young and young at heart. It’s good to remember that the zone between discomfort and injury gets smaller as we age.
Approach to Injuries
In sports medicine, it is common to treat athlete’s injuries not just with rest but also with corresponding strength training to improve future mobility, flexibility and strength. Sedentary seniors with injuries are often told to rest and avoid using the injured area. Seniors athletes, however, should not always be given total downtime recommendations just because they are seniors.
While total downtime may be the right course of action, it’s important for senior athletes to let their physicians know about active (or pre-injury active) lifestyles so that this can be taken into consideration during rest and rehab. They may need total rest, but they may also benefit from a physician with sports medicine experience who can recommend activity modification to help heal and restore functionality to injury areas.
Approach to surgical treatment may also be different for senior athletes. It’s important to let your orthopedic physician know what types of activities you want to continue to engage in after surgery. Some may be possible while others may have to be given up.
While some active seniors may be better candidates for certain surgeries, others may not. Senior athletes have different rates of aging and decline and different corresponding health issues and assets — BMI, strength, coordination, etc. So, a squash partner’s shoulder surgery and recovery may look nothing like your own.
If you are a senior athlete experiencing chronic pain or an injury, consider the sports medicine specialists and physicians at The Center for Orthopedics. Give us a call at 440.329.2800.