A "weekend warrior" is a term describing individuals who work hard during the week and play hard during the weekend. These individuals commonly compete in sports activities such as tennis, basketball, softball, soccer or golf. Other types of recreational exercise include jogging, riding a bicycle or even swimming. Regardless of the sport played, the one common denominator is the pain and discomfort they suffer when Monday morning comes around.

Exercise is not only beneficial for the heart and lungs, but it is equally beneficial for our emotional well-being. However, as we age, muscles, tendons and ligaments shorten and stiffen, causing pain and discomfort. When a person exercises intensely only once or twice a week, he or she is more likely to suffer an injury because the body is not prepared for the stress.

Backache, knee pain and shoulder strain are probably three of the most common ailments seen by doctors due to these overuse injuries. Most injuries tend to be mild; however, tearing of ligaments and tendons is not uncommon. Additionally, more serious injuries can occur including bone fractures, joint dislocations and concussions. As such, sports-related injuries make up almost 40 percent of all emergency room visits each year.

Jeremy Norman, the head athletic trainer for the Connecticut Sun basketball team states, "Professional athletes and weekend warriors share many similarities. It is important to take care of the little things that can ruin careers," he said. "Not learning how to prevent the acute injury can lead to long-term chronic injuries." He suggests that weekend warriors take ownership of their own bodies. "We always recommend that any athlete focus on the muscles they will be using for their specific sport activity. For example, tennis players or baseball players should spend lots of time stretching their rotational muscles." Jeremy recommends using a "foam roller" after exercise. "It's like having your own professional masseuse stretching out your tight muscles."

Other tips to minimize your risk of injury:

Stretch before you exercise. Warming up your body helps blood flow which prepares the muscles, tendons and ligaments for activity.

Exercise during the week. Even an additional 30 minutes of moderate exercise once a week can help decrease the risk of injuries resulting from intense weekend sports activities.

Recognize your limitations. If a particular exercise is causing pain or breathing difficulties, stop the activity, rest and apply ice. If the symptoms persist, visit your physician.

Vary your exercise routine. Using more than one muscle group will help stabilize and strengthen other areas of your body.

Maintain hydration. Dehydration stresses the body, resulting in muscle cramps and fatigue. Juices and power drinks along with plenty of water are the best ways to prevent these undesirable effects.

Cool down after exercise. Spending just a few minutes stretching after exercise or walking slowly on a treadmill can help slow down heart rate and may prevent muscle spasms.

Wear appropriate protective equipment. Helmets, mouth guards, eye protection and elastic wraps are designed to minimize injuries.

Exercise can have many potential benefits. These include reducing blood pressure, lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics, aiding in weight loss and even extending lifespan. However, proper preparation is essential to prevent injuries. Visit your physician before starting any exercise program. Personal trainers at your local gym can help plan a program to fit your age and fitness level as well. Sports can be fun, but remember to prepare your body for activity and avoid the trauma of injuries.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, please visit his website at www.drmichaelbschwartz.com

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