"When we think of the injuries most common for 'weekend warriors', we think of ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders," says Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD and founder Atlantic Spine Center, "and the ligaments and tendons that connect the bones in those joints are particularly vulnerable to strains and sprains. But injuries to the back and neck are more common than most people think and can cause pain that is often severe."
- Follow general best practices for good health: weight control, regular exercise and not smoking. Get plenty of rest before hitting the playing field. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and limited amounts of meat and dairy products.
- Warm up and cool down: Cold muscles are most prone to injury. Begin warming up with light aerobic exercise - 5 to 10 minutes of jogging or jumping jacks at an easy pace - to gradually raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles. Your warm-up should include dynamic stretching - stretching while moving, which improves power and flexibility of the muscles and ligaments. Cooling down gradually lowers the heart rate and restores fatigued muscles by getting blood and oxygen to them. Cooling down should consist of a gentle jog followed by light static stretching - remaining stationary while holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Don't overdo it: Overuse injuries occur when movements are repeated over and over - hitting a tennis serve, for example, or swinging a golf club. Take frequent rests and start slowly at the beginning of the season. Drink plenty of water. And don't play through pain. Continuing to play can make a back injury worse.
- Use proper form: Proper technique will not only improve your game, it will help you stay healthy. The best way to avoid bad habits is to avoid developing them. Take lessons from a qualified instructor and have periodic refreshers or check-ups to ensure that you aren't slipping.
- Use protective equipment: Some sports are more likely to cause injury than others, dependent in part on the amount of contact. Protective equipment for the neck and back might include neck rolls and shoulder pads. Wearing supportive shoes with the right amount of cushioning and stability for your sport is also critical in avoiding falls and supporting the spine.