It’s Monday morning and you’re sitting at your desk
pondering the great time you had the past weekend during your neighborhood’s
third-annual flag football game. Suddenly, your boss interrupts your thought by
summoning you to his office. Problem is, your back feels like you’ve been
kidney-punched by Muhammed Ali, your hamstrings have decided to shrink three
inches and your ankle has grown to twice its size because on your game-winning
touchdown catch, you twisted it. Hopefully, the boss can wait as you hobble down
the hall because you’re suffering from the Monday blues of the weekend
A weekend warrior is any person who participates in
little or no exercise during the week and then on the weekend partakes in some
kind of physical activity. In most cases, the intensity of the weekend activity
is far to vigorous than that which the individual is conditioned for, resulting
in injury and in almost every case, severe soreness.
Injury, soreness and in the rare case, fatality, plaque
millions of American men each year as a result of improper training prior to
athletic events and physical activities. According to orthopedic surgeons
nationwide, more than one million injuries related to sports occurred in the
baby-boomer population alone during 1998. Sports injuries can occur in any event
from bicycling or football, to badminton or basketball. Virtually any activity
that requires rapid limb movement or a fast-paced walking motion can cause
bodily injury to the unconditioned weekend warrior.
According to insurance claims and medical expense data,
injuries related to sports and physical activity have increased substantially
from 1991 to 1998. The 33 percent increase in injuries during the
eight-year-long period has accounted for nearly $120 billion dollars in medical
costs. Nearly 18 billion dollars a year is spent on treating and rehabilitating
injuries that may have been avoided with proper education and conditioning.
What Ails You
The myriad of injuries common to the weekend warrior
ranges from strains and sprains, to concussions, broken bones and torn
cartilage. The most common of these injuries are sprains and strains. The most
common body part injured is the long leg – in particular, the knees and ankle
complex. According to a panel of sports medicine physicians, in 1998, Achilles
tendon tears were the number-one injury sustained by weekend warriors older than
thirty years old. Not far behind were ankle sprains and severely pulled
The Difference Between a Sprain and a Strain
One of the best ways to prevent injury is to know what
can happen to you while participating in sports or other physical activity. Like
any other warrior, you must know your enemy and attack him before he attacks
you. Knowledge of the common sports-related ailments will help you prevent them
from taking you out of the game.
One of the most common injuries suffered by weekend
warriors is the strain. A strain is the stretching and in the worst case,
tearing of the muscle tissue or the tissue that makes up your tendons. A tendon
is a band of connective tissue that attaches your muscles to your bones. If
you’ve ever been diagnosed as having a pulled muscle, you’ve suffered from a
strain. The most severe strains are tears of the tissue, resulting in very
painful movement, swelling and in the worst cases, subcutaneous bleeding or
A sprain, on the other hand, is a stretching or
tearing of a ligament. Your ligaments are fibrous connective tissue structures
that connect one end of a bone to another. One of the most glamorized sprains
among professional athletes is a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The ACL is one of the main stabilizers of the knee and is often injured during
contact and jumping sports such as football and basketball.
A sprain or a strain can occur during virtually any
physical activity. Strains in particular can result from inactivity,
deconditioning or simply from overdoing it. Most post-physical activity soreness
can be categorized as a strain. It is theorized that the soreness you feel after
a hard day’s work is a result of micro-muscle (or microscopic muscle) tears.
Strains most often occur as a result of not being properly warmed-up or
stretched prior to and after activity.
Strains, like most other injuries, cause pain and
swelling to the affected area. In most cases, you will feel the pain of a strain
in the muscle belly, which is the central bulky part of the actual muscle. If
you have suffered from a strained muscle or tendon, you are most likely to have
a loss of or diminished function in that area. In the most severe cases, you can
lose function all together. Other symptoms of a strain include muscle spasms and
a dead feeling to that limb.
A sprain is often caused by acute trauma either
indirectly from a fall or bad twist or from a direct collision. Sprains are
graded into one of three distinct categories. First-degree sprains are
categorized by pain and discomfort to the ligament, with minimal to no joint
laxity or looseness; in other words, even though there’s pain, the actual
joint is still taut and stable. Second-degree sprains involve partial
tears of the ligaments, increased pain, increased swelling, loss of function and
difficulty with movement. Most severe are third-degree sprains. They are
associated with complete tears of the ligaments, loss of stability and in some
The most common symptoms of a sprain are pain, swelling
and bruising. Unlike the strain, where the pain is felt in the belly of the
muscle, pain from sprains is found on, in, or around a joint. People who
sprained a ligament often report hearing or feeling a pop in their joint. That
pop is the sound of ligament stretching and in the worst scenario, fully tearing
apart. The most common sprain that occurs in weekend warriors is the ankle
sprain, usually due to poor footwear or unconditioned musculature surrounding
the ankle. Sprains are commonly referred to as twists (e.g. twisting you ankle).
Treating Sprains and Strains
Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are four
cardinal rules for injury treatment and they apply here as much as anywhere
else. By immediately adhering to these rules, you can significantly reduce the
pain and discomfort of your injury. Likewise, your overall healing time will be
The rule of thumb for ice application is application of
ice to the injured area immediately following the injury. You should keep the
ice on for 15 minutes, remove it for 15 minutes and then reapply. Repeat that
cycle as many times as possible during the next 48 hours. You can use ice in the
form of cubes or shavings in a bag, pre-made ice packs or even a steak or bag of
peas from your freezer. Always put a layer of tissue or cloth between your skin
and the ice to avoid any negative reactions to the cold.
If you are in doubt as to the severity of your injury or
you notice that it is not getting better over a period of time, you should have
your doctor examine your injury and have an x-ray taken. In some cases,
particularly in sprains, there is an associated fracture of the involved bone.
The most severe sprains and strains may require surgery or physical
rehabilitation, so a doctor’s visit is essential.
Other Common Injuries
Weekend warriors are prone to other injuries besides
sprains and strains. Head injuries such as concussions are also common. Head
injuries occur as a result of direct trauma to the head as in the case of
hitting another player or colliding with a structure.
Lacerations and bruises are other uncomfortable problems
that occur in the weekend warrior population. Black eyes and cut lips abound in
many pick-up basketball games across the country.
Though most of the traumatic collision types of injuries
are unavoidable, their frequency of occurrence and the frequency of sprains and
strains in particular, can be significantly decreased with proper conditioning
and common sense.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
So you think you’re ready for that pick-up game, this
Saturday all the boys in the office have been talking about all week? Well, if
you haven’t done anything to tune your body before tip-off, you may very well
end up stiff as a board with an ice pack somewhere on your body by Monday.
The best way to prevent injury and soreness is to
condition your body by participating in some sort of physical activity a few
times during the week. The best way to get ready for your weekend event is to do
something fairly similar to it Monday through Friday. If your event requires
running or sprinting it is a good idea to do some jogging or cardiovascular
conditioning before heading into the full activity.
By building your body’s cardiovascular endurance, you
will not fatigue as fast during your activity and you will build the strength of
your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Most incurred by weekend warriors comes as
a secondary product of fatigue. For
example, if your quadriceps muscles are not in shape, you’re very likely to
have weak and injury-prone knees that are bound to give out sooner than later.
Stretch, stretch, stretch. It is a good idea to stretch
your muscles on a daily basis to increase their elasticity and durability. Tight
muscles are the primary causes of muscle strains. By increasing their
elasticity, they are less likely to tear or cramp during your weekend event.
Spend a few minutes each morning stretching your major
muscle groups. On game day, don’t go rushing right onto the field. Spend a
good ten-to-fifteen minutes stretching your legs, your shoulders, your back and
all muscle groups related to your activity. To help prevent soreness the next
day, it is also a good idea to do some stretching after the activity to help
fresh blood and nutrients to the area. Doing so will help increase the recovery
rate of your muscles and tendons. The next day you will thank yourself for
performing your stretching ritual.
Always warm up before participating in any physical
activity. When your muscles are cold, they are less elastic and very prone to
overstretching or tearing. Take a few laps around the court or field. Don’t
exhaust yourself, but you should be on the verge of breaking into a slight
sweat. The increased blood flow will bring the warmth to the muscle needed for
Other things to remember to help prevent injury are
proper eating and equipment choice. Junk food and heavy meals will only slow you
down and give you insufficient energy to perform at your peak level. You should
eat a good balanced meal three hours before you play and drink plenty of water
before, during and after your event.
Many injuries each year are due to poorly fitted shoes or
the wrong type of shoe for your activity. When making your shoe selection, keep
in mind the type of surface you will be playing on and match the shoe to the
surface. Make sure your shoe fits properly, and that it’s not too tight and
not too loose. If you are prone to ankle sprains, it is a good idea to invest in
a pair of high-top shoes for added ankle and foot support.
Finally, take it slow. If it’s your first time out,
don’t try to perform in the same fashion that you did in your high school
lacrosse championships. Play for a limited time your first time out and increase
your participation as your body becomes better conditioned, Most of the Monday
blues comes from weekend warriors going full tilt for an extended period of time
– far beyond their bodies’ capabilities. You might not feel it at the time,
but come Monday, you’ll be kicking yourself in the rear for overdoing it –
if you can move your leg.