Someone paying for your beer after you’ve just played a pick-up basketball game does not make you a professional basketball player. You are not a professional athlete if you play sports only on weekends. You are instead what’s called a “Weekend Warrior.” And you may want to heed the advice that Christopher C. Dodson, M.D., offered during his Spotlight session on “Healing the Weekend Warrior,” at this year’s Forbes Healthcare Summit.
“Weekend Warrior” may sound like a nice superhero name but such a character will not be part of the Marvel or DC Cinematic Universes anytime soon. In fact, in general, it is not a good designation to have. File “Weekend Warrior” along with “Didn’t Iron Clothes Man” and “Only Eat Wonder Bread Woman” as identities that you may not want to have. Being a Weekend Warrior could put you at much higher risk for a variety of injuries including muscle strains, ligament tears, tendon injuries, and tendinitis, according to Dodson.
Dodson knows more than a little about Weekend Warrior syndrome. He is a sports medicine surgeon at the Rothman Orthopedic Institute and an Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University. Sure he takes care of some of the top athletes in the world as Head Team Physician for the Philadelphia 76ers and Head Orthopedic Surgeon for the Philadelphia Eagles. But, most of his patients are not the top athletes in the world. Many, in fact, are Weekend Warriors.
What’s Dodson’s chief advice if you are a Weekend Warrior? Don’t be a weekend warrior.
That’s because you are not a mozzarella ball. You cannot suddenly be pushed and pulled in different directions after resting for a long while and subsequently bounce back quickly. Your body may be very flexible when you are an infant and can easily and literally put your foot in your mouth. However, life goes downhill after then in many ways. Dodson explained that the older you get, the less water your tissues have, the less flexible your body parts become.
Therefore, your muscles and other tissues need to gradually transition to any type of physical activity. That’s why the 100 meter dash at the Olympic events doesn’t begin with people sitting in armchairs at the starting line. That’s why football sidelines don’t have beds on them. That’s why professional athletes keep doing their sports and physical activity throughout the week and throughout the off season.
So what do you do if you are not Joel Embid, Ben Simmons, or Carson Wentz and are not paid to play sports every day? What is you have other things that occupy much of your time like working, taking care of family, and reading Forbes articles?
Dodson encouraged everyone to stay active throughout the week in any way that they can. You’ve heard of the term “farm-to-table”? Well, you shouldn’t be couch-to-court on weekends. Whether its brisk walks, some jogging, or core-building activities like planks on your boss’s desk, every little bit helps. If you know that your weekend is going to have an intense game or race, try to build up to that level as much as in advance as possible.
Dodson listed other things to do as well:
- Warm up
- Use proper technique and equipment
- Find an exercise program
- Don’t push through pain
You know that saying, “no pain, no gain.” Well, in this case, you can replace it with “push through pain, don’t have a brain.” Pain is your body’s way of saying, “whoa, Nellie,” something’s not right.
Speaking of not right, Dodson also listed signs of serious injury:
- “Felt a pop”
- Significant swelling or bruising
- Cannot walk or lift leg
For the first, your body is not a bowl of Rice Crispies. It should not go, “snap, crackle, pop.” For the second, any significant bruising should raise concerns but especially when you didn’t actually hit something. This could be a sign of internal damage, like a ligament tear. The third sign can apply to other body parts besides the leg as well. Be concerned if you can’t use any other body part as you normally do such as if you hurt your arm or shoulder to the point where you can’t dab. The last sign applies to nearly any degree of deformity. Certainly if your knee is now next to your ear, call your doctor immediately. But even seemingly minor changes in the angle or contour of your body parts can be concerning.
For less serious injuries, Dodson recommended trying RICE first. No, this doesn’t mean placing yourself into a bowl of rice. You are not a smart phone that’s fallen into water. By rice, Dodson means:
- Rest, which mean rest.
- Ice, which means frozen water in a towel or some type of covering to the injured area for about 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
- Compression, with an elastic bandage to reduce the swelling. Don’t wrap it too tight. If your body part falls off, it was too tight.
- Elevation, which means try to keep your body part above your heart to reduce swelling.
Dodson advised that if your injury does not resolve within a week, seek out medical assistance.
After his Spotlight session, Dodson told me that he has been seeing a substantial increase in the number of sports injuries, “I now see injuries like ACL tears several times a week when before they seemed to occur much less often.”
Dodson emphasized that the Weekend Warrior problem has no age limit, meaning that even young kids can suffer it. He added, “sports specialization has made things worse and may be responsible for the observed increase in the number of injuries.
He elaborated, “When people do just one sport, they will overuse particular parts of their body. It is much better to regularly participate in different kinds of physical activity. Anytime you do a sudden burst of single activity, you are at higher risk for injury.” I’ve previously covered for Forbes this trend towards sports specialization or just playing one sport.
Weekend Warriors may be inspired by watching professional sports on the weekend to then immediately give it a try on the field or court. However, Dodson said that Weekend Warriors should look at professional athletes more closely to understand the hazards, “Everyone has to remember that professional athletes retire when their bodies can’t really do the sport at the same level anymore. Their bodies can’t take it anymore. As you get older, you have to change your expectations, whether or not you were ever at the elite level.”
The bottom line is don’t be a weekend warrior. Instead, get off your bottom more often throughout the week. Being a Golden State Warrior may be good, except for perhaps this year, but a Weekend Warrior is a different story.