By Matthew Salzler, MD
Many of us never believed the mountains of snow would melt and we’d be engaging in any outdoor exercise other than shoveling – but somehow, summer is upon us in Boston.
For most of us, the first instinct is to get outside and make up for months of hibernation and treadmills. But it’s important to temper your excitement and approach your summer workout safely. Not doing so could land you with an injury that will put a damper on your long-awaited days outdoors.
Stay cool and maintain hydration. Try to avoid exercising outdoors in the heat of the day; whenever possible plan runs before 10:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m. Staying well hydrated is an important component of summer exercise to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. That means more than drinking water, as your body also loses salt when you sweat. Try replacing this loss with products like sports drinks or salt tablets. Avoid caffeine or alcohol prior to an outdoor workout as these can also cause dehydration.
Maintain balance. Many injuries occur because of muscle imbalances such as weak hamstrings or glutes, predisposing you to overuse injuries as well as ACL tears. In addition to your workout of choice, be it biking, running or contact sports, incorporating full body strengthening is important. This will lower the risk of injuries for all activities.
…but don’t overdo it. While full body strength training is important, it’s also critical that you build up to it properly. Attempting to tone up too quickly is more likely to land you with an injury. If you’re exercising on your own, begin with light weights and consider getting tips from a trainer for proper technique. Many strength training classes can be modified based on your level. If you’re just starting out or recovering from an injury, it’s best to approach the instructor before class and let them know. They can often show you modifications that will make the exercises less intense until you build up the proper strength.
Know when to see a doctor. Many summer workouts come with aches and pains, and it’s tough to know when that requires a trip to the doctor. While issues like IT-Band pain and tendinitis may require medical attention, they can be treated with rest in many scenarios. However, symptoms like swelling, popping or snapping in the joints, or an unexplained change or weakness in a muscle, is more likely to require medical attention. The latter symptoms may not always hurt as badly, but they could be the sign of something much worse if not treated properly.
Choose the right location. Where you run can be just as important as when and how. In general, concrete has the highest impact on your knees and joints. Asphalt is a better option, with gravel having even less of an impact. When possible, consider running on tracks and packed soil. It’s also important to know your body and what kind of foundation you can handle without pain. When it comes to locations, Castle Island can be a great choice for good scenery and the fellowship of other runners.
While joint and muscle pain are a critical focus of summer workout safety, I would be remiss not to close with the all-important health reminder to wear appropriate sunscreen during summer workouts, whether you’re going for a bike ride, running in the park or playing tennis. Exercise is great for your health, but not if you’re doing long term damage to your skin. So put on some sunscreen, and take precautions so that you can enjoy the warm weather while it’s here. As Bostonians know all too well – it only lasts for so long.
Matthew Salzler, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon at Tufts Medical Center, specializing in sports medicine, and an instructor at Tufts University School of Medicine.