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January 16, 2007 > Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Getting in Shape the Right Way This Year to Avoid Bone and Joint Injuries

The holiday gatherings are over. The leftovers that haunted the refrigerator are a distant memory. Most of us are back to work. And many of us have "get in shape" listed as one of our top goals for 2007.
With an increased number of us hitting the pavement, the slopes, and the gym in an effort to improve our overall physical fitness, it's easy to get carried away and want results sooner rather than later.
Dr. David Bell, co-medical director of The Sports Medicine Center and a Washington Hospital Medical Staff orthopedist, says it's not just the advanced athlete that needs to be cognizant of injuries, but also the novice just beginning an exercise regimen.
Some of the most common injuries Dr. Bell sees in his practice include knee injuries, such as a torn meniscus which often occurs when the knee joint is bent and the knee is then twisted; injuries to the rotator cuff, a group of four muscles and their tendons that wraps around the front, back, and top of the shoulder joint; and tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis, in which the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender, usually as a result of a specific strain, overuse, or a direct impact.
Think basketball, tennis and skiing.
"It is common to see an increased number of people after the holidays who have been trying to ramp up their fitness level too quickly," Dr. Bell says. "The goal of exercise is to achieve incremental increases in strength, flexibility and endurance by stressing the body over time. When people don't let the healing process occur, they become injured."
Warm up those muscles!
So for those looking to get into shape this year, what is the key? According to Dr. Bell it's more about patience than speedy results.
"I think a good principle is warming up before increasing your intensity. Try for five minutes of slow activity and once you have the blood pumping do some light stretching. At this point you can think about doing your main exercise and then a warm-down for at least five minutes after your workout."
Dr. Bell notes that people trying to lose weight after the holidays many times become impatient and either tend to increase their intensity too quickly or skip vital steps in their exercise regimen, such as warming up.
For people who have a medical condition or history, it's important, Dr. Bell says, to consult with their primary care physician before beginning an exercise program. Similarly, those who plan on taking up a new activity should seek competent advice from a professional, such as a certified physical trainer, before beginning, he adds.
Exercise for better health, avoid injury
"I think everyone should be pursuing some type of fitness program," he says. "But it's important to remember that even if you're not competing, you can still be at risk for an injury to shoulder or knee, for example."
For those just beginning a fitness routine for the first time, Dr. Bell recommends starting gradually to avoid bone and joint injuries down the road. He gives the example of starting with a light 10-minute walk twice a week, and then increasing to two 15-minute walks the next week, slowly upping the time spent exercising. For weight training, he says starting out at two days a week for 20 minutes a session and then increasing each session by five to 10 minutes the next week might be the way to go.
If you've already gone a little too far too fast with your new exercise routine, Dr. Bell recommends admitting it to yourself if you feel an injury coming on.
"We see people delaying seeking treatment, as well as those who are in denial that they are even injured. If a sprain or strain doesn't feel better in a day or two, it's better to come in. More serious injuries can actually be going on, and more significant treatment and tests may need to be performed," he says.
Helping athletes, from amateur to professional
Dr. Bell, who serves as the team physician for Cal State East Bay in Hayward and Ohlone College in Fremont, sees a range of different patients in his role at The Sports Medicine Center, which offers state-of-the art evaluation and treatment for sports injuries for athletes of ages and activity levels on the Washington Hospital campus.
In addition to college and professional athletes, two populations he sees a lot of are high school athletes and baby boomers.
"The baby boomer generation really wants to remain fit and healthy; they tend to pursue a very active lifestyle in exercise and sports related activities," Dr. Bell says. "Injury prevention for this group is very important."
For high school athletes, receiving a physical evaluation before participating in sports is more than good sense - it's a requirement.
"At the high school level, all of the leagues require a pre-participation physical, which is a screening evaluation to identify any injuries or conditions even if the student does not have any previous medical problems."
To see a list of services available through The Sports Medicine Center, visit Washington Hospital's Web site at, click on "Services & Programs," and select "The Sports Medicine Center."
To learn about other programs and services available through Washington Hospital, tune into InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel, on Comcast Channel 78.

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