Sports injuries are described as a disruption of bone, ligament, muscle, tendon or soft tissue as a result of participation in a sporting activity. They can be broadly classified into acute, or traumatic and cumulative, or overuse.
The description of an ‘Older athlete’ is a little more nebulous, and varies greatly between individuals. Research has shown that from approximately the age of 40 there is a reduction in muscle mass, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular capacity. However, that is not across the board and neither is it set in stone. It is dependent on many factors such as training history and current activity level and of course psychological readiness. “A 75 year old athlete may perform many times faster and be in better health than a sedentary 30 – 40 year old” Dr Vonda Wright.
Most physically active individuals display superior health and physical capacity compared with inactive persons of a younger age. They will, however, be affected by some of the drawbacks of physical overloading, mostly due to the diminished ability of aging body systems to adapt to high levels of loading. The safety margin of an exercise dose tends to decline with aging.
Exertional injuries are connected mostly with loss of flexibility and degenerative changes in the soft tissues. The most common type of soft tissue injury in older athletes is tendonosis or tendonopathies.
A tendonopathy involves the loss of the integrity and chronic degeneration of a tendon. It is usually triggered by overload or increased strain on the tendon. It was previously known as a ‘tendonitis’ but literature now recognizes the absence of an inflammatory component.
It is the type of injury that doesn’t feel too bad when it first happens, but just doesn’t get better. It is generally worse at the beginning of a session and eases as you warm up, although as it progresses, it can become constant.
Common sites of tendonosis include the rotator cuff (shoulder), patella (knee) and achilles (ankle).
Treatment can be difficult and time consuming. The most important part of treatment is a timely and accurate diagnosis. Many people are treated for quite a while with anti-inflammatory treatments such as ice and medication, which have no effect.
• Correct faulty biomechanics – is your serve or the way you land contributing to too much load through the tendon? Checking your gait, posture and alignment are important aspects of diagnosis and treatment.
• Check core stability – do you have adequate control through range to enable you to execute movement correctly?
• Eccentrically load the tendon. Research has shown that specific loading along the tendon will help to re-organize the tendon matrix, improving its strength and flexibility. This takes time, precision, and perseverance, but the correct program of loading is absolutely essential to rehabilitation.
The best 'treatment' for sports-related injuries is prevention. Good agility, technical skills, and cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness are important in injury prevention among any athlete. Appropriate training programs, the use of safe and familiar equipment, careful warming up and cooling down, multiphasic training (including the training of neurophysiological functions such as balance, coordination and reaction time) and muscle strength are essential aspects of injury prevention.