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By Paul Harasimowicz, MD

Orthopaedist at Nashoba Valley Medical Center

This is the first in an occasional series of articles written by Nashoba Valley Medical Center staff.

Whether running, hiking, biking, or playing a quick pick-up game of football or soccer, fall is the season when it’s most clear that sports are not just for the pros or for kids. An increase in physical activity means an increase in the potential to sustain a sports-related injury.

Orthopaedic surgery has come a long way toward helping professional and amateur athletes, senior citizens, and others in recovering from injury. However, it is also important to learn some basic prevention techniques to minimize the chance of injury.

Make sure to stretch before engaging in physical activity. The most common way to prevent injury is to stretch out muscles before playing sports or being active. Muscles are more elastic when they have been stretched out, and less likely to cause cramps or discomfort.

Hydrate before, during and after any activity. Like stretching, hydration is one of the most common and important forms of injury prevention when it comes to physical activity. Especially on the warmer days of fall, our bodies quickly dehydrate due to sweating. Muscles use fluids and electrolytes to function properly, so even if someone does stretch before being active, dehydration may still cause muscle sprains and strains. Always carry a bottle of water when exercising.

Wear proper footwear and equipment. Wearing the wrong shoes can be the surest way to sprain an ankle depending on the intensity of a workout. When running, make sure footwear provides ankles and soles with the support needed. And when walking or hiking, make sure the shoes are up for the task.

For those who have existing joint pains, wearing a brace when being active can ease discomfort and help prevent further damage to joints.

And most importantly, those who are active during the fall months must know their limits. Fall is an ideal time to be outside, but because of the changing weather — which can range from bright sun, heat, and sometimes, humidity to cooler mornings and evenings — our bodies can get tired, dehydrated, and overheated very easily. There is no shame in ending a workout early or sitting a few plays out during a game. Not paying attention to the signs our bodies are telling us is a surefire way to cause harm.

By listening to our bodies, injuries that can take weeks or even months of recovery can be easily avoided. High-intensity physical activity — such as competitive sports, running, or cycling — can put a lot of strain on joints and muscles and increase the likelihood of an injury. The possibility of sports-related injury can never be eliminated, but following these basic guidelines will improve your chances of having a healthy and active fall.

For information about orthopaedic services offered at Nashoba Valley Medical Center, visit www.nashobamed.org.