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Playing for Keeps

Don’t get sidelined by these summertime sports injuries



In New England, everyone looks forward to the summer, when clement weather puts a premium on playing outdoors. But there is sometimes a downside to warm-weather pursuits—sports injuries.

Dr. Angelo Ciminiello, who specializes in sports medicine at Danbury Orthopedic Associates and is busier than ever during the summer, has years of experience treating seasonal injuries. He says that the five most-common summertime ailments are rotator-cuff bursitis, knee strains/meniscus tears, elbow tendonitis, ACL tears, and shoulder dislocations. He also says that there are ways to stay healthy and avoid these injuries while playing sports.

Dr. Ciminiello sees about 750 cases of rotator-cuff bursitis—the most common summertime sports injury—between June and September. Tennis and baseball, in particular, are the usual culprits, he says, as they put undo strain on the shoulder’s rotator cuff. But a bad fall while water-boarding or water-skiing can also strain the rotator cuff.

Symptoms of rotator-cuff problems include shoulder pain, which can prevent the sufferer from participating in activities and even sleeping comfortably. If not treated, rotator-cuff bursitis can lead to arthritis, a painful condition caused by joint inflammation. Men and women over 45 are most at risk, although younger pitchers and would-be tennis pros are also susceptible.

Knee strains and meniscus tears are also common, says Dr. Ciminiello, who sees hundreds of patients—ranging in age from 16 to 65—with these injuries every summer. Any sport can cause these knee ailments, but soccer and basketball are usually responsible. Undiagnosed knee strains can also lead to early arthritis and the inability to play certain sports.

For golfers and tennis players over the age of 35, elbow tendonitis is often a common complaint, according to Dr. Ciminiello. Using proper form when swinging a club or a racket will lower the risk of developing elbow tendonitis. And if your elbow is hurting, you should avoid heavy lifting and make sure to stretch out your wrist. The “good” thing about elbow tendonitis, Dr. Ciminiello shares, is that there are no long-term consequences.

ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, tears are serious, says Dr. Ciminiello, who sees about 50 actual tears each summer. Athletes who run extensively, including players of rugby, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and contact sports in general, are more at risk. Young athletes between the ages of 14 and 35 are most commonly injured, with female adolescents most at risk. Short-term effects include recurrent instability and a dangerous buckling of the knee, which can cause irreversible damage to the joint. If ignored, an ACL tear can bring on early and rapid arthritis. It is therefore critical to see a doctor as soon as symptoms emerge. To lower the risk of this injury, athletes should stretch before exercising, with an emphasis on improving hip and hamstring flexibility. Also key is learning proper form in general, as well as maintaining core strength.

Shoulder dislocations normally happen from a traumatic fall, especially when falling the wrong way, which unfortunately is difficult to prevent. From June through September, Dr. Ciminiello sees, on average, 50 patients of bad falls, who are usually between 18 and 25 years old. Long-term consequences of this serious injury are recurrent instability and a ten-times-higher risk of getting arthritis in the shoulder and surrounding area.

The key to lowering the risk of any of these injuries is simple but critical—always stretch and warm up before exercising. Additionally, maintain good core strength and listen to your body; if your shoulder hurts, stop exercising immediately.

Above all, know your limitations. If pain or swelling persists, see a doctor.

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