You went out to the local court over the weekend and played a few of your best pickup games ever. Now it is Monday, and your shins are stiff and painful, your back is aching, and your knees are starting to swell. If this scenario sounds familiar, then you have experienced what I call an “under fit” injury. I do not like to call them overuse injuries because that implies you should not use the muscles. “Under-fit” means you were not prepared for whatever activity you engaged in. You played three games of basketball instead of one. Basketball is an excellent sport for overall conditioning. It offers intense aerobic workout while strengthening muscles throughout the body. But it can also cause finger and ankle injuries, sprains, tendinitis, back spasms, and knee problems. Here are some tips on how to get the gain without the pain.
• Know your body’s limits. “Do not go out and try to ride like Lance Armstrong unless you have been training for a decade,” says Dr. Smith. “Gradually build up to your goal level. That might take six to 12 months, depending on your age.”
• Resist being a weekend warrior. Exercise some during the week as well, even if it is just a brisk, 30-minute walk. “The problem is we are episodic exercisers,” says Dr. Smith. “We tend to ping-pong back and forth between activity and inactivity rather than having a baseline.”
• Warm up. Begin with low-intensity aerobic activity before getting into the heat of the game. Stretching, however, is only recommended after playing. Stretching beforehand can actually make muscles weaker by fatiguing them.
• Use the right gear. Make sure shoes fit properly and offer the right support. If you have had wrist, knee, or ankle injuries before, it might be helpful to wear a brace. If you do feel you have overdone it, remember the acronym RICE — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If pain persists, increases significantly with activity, or causes swelling, limping, or limited range of motion, see a physician immediately.