Athletes are at risk for sunburn

Sunburn, an often-ignored sports injury, can result in immediate as well as long term injury. If exposure becomes chronic, it can lead to death.

Skin is the largest organ in the human body. An intricate network of blood vessels, nerves and glands provides a system for thermoregulation. It is responsible for protecting internal organs from the environment, leaving the skin susceptible to damage from the elements.

The sun produces invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UVA and UVB rays can produce damage after excessive exposure.

Athletes whose sports require long hours of outdoor training are particularly susceptible to the sun. This includes runners, cyclists and surfers. Winter athletes are at risk due to reflection of sun rays on snow and ice, and because they typically compete at higher altitudes.

Protection from the sun involves several strategies:

- Timing. Sun exposure is minimized when workouts are scheduled before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
- Clothing. Dark, tightly woven attire will block rays while light colors only scatter rays and loose weaves allow the rays to pass through. Modern fabrics allow athletes to remain cool while covered.
- Sunscreen. Athletes should use sunscreens specifically formulated as sweat resistant and waterproof. They should also have a sun protective factor (SPF) of 30-50. A high SPF lip balm is also recommended.

“Athletes often do not reapply sunscreen despite profuse sweating. It must be re-applied at least every two hours to be effective,” said Dr. Howard Rogers, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in Norwich and member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff.

He also believes instructing people to increase sun exposure to avoid vitamin D deficiency is misleading and that dietary supplements are the most efficient way of addressing this problem without unnecessary cancer risk.

Remember, you can never apply sunscreen too much or too often.

Athletes can improve performance with rest

Athletes are typically highly motivated and committed to their sports. Hard work as a means of improvement is a core value. Among the most difficult things a sports medicine physician must recommend to an athlete is rest.

An athlete’s response to a physician’s advice is not age-dependent. Older people often tragically ignore sound advice while younger athletes with a bright future may accept the verdict.

Inexperienced athletes perceive rest as a defeat and often ignore this recommendation. Their persistence to “work through the pain” often leads to a more severe, career-ending or life-altering injury.

More mature athletes understand that resting can be an opportunity to become better at their sport. They use the time to work on other aspects of their game and often emerge stronger and more competitive.

For example, a pitcher or golfer may realize after an injury that they can no longer rely on power and must add more finesse to their game.

Rest is an effective treatment for many injuries:
Muscle strain. Rest allows muscle fibers that may have small tears to repair themselves and perform more efficiently.
Sprains. These injuries involve ligaments that stabilize joints. Swelling and inflammation are a result of these injuries and rest gives the body an opportunity to resolve this response.
Concussions. Any brain injury requires cognitive and physical rest so that brain cells can heal. Any activity should be stopped until it can be done without a headache.

Rest does not mean total separation from sports. Rehabilitation involves activity without the use of an injured limb or joint. Bracing can often allow for limited, painless activity. A recovery plan should include the advice of a certified athletic trainer or physical therapist.

One common feature to these injuries is pain and a good rule to follow is that if it hurts, rest is in order.

Sports are good for autistic children

When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are rightly concerned. Autism should not exclude anyone from participation in sports and in fact exercise and fitness should be encouraged as a form of therapy.

Autism is a group of developmental disorders now referred to as “autism spectrum disorders.” The range of symptoms varies greatly but the common element is difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

The causes of autism are highly controversial and diverse. Genetic causes along with environmental factors are currently being investigated. Complications during childbirth may also play a role.

Since the range of symptoms is so broad, no single treatment is effective for everyone. Medication has not been proven to play a major role. Most treatment plans include educational, creative and dietary therapies.

Sports play a role in treating autism by emphasizing coordination and body awareness. Dedication to improving a particular athletic skill will also increase confidence and support other therapies.

Team sports are generally not recommended because participation relies so heavily on communication with teammates. The best sports for children with autism include:

Track and Field. Running and throwing are very basic activities that require little verbal skill.
Swimming. The symmetry and the swim stroke improve body awareness. Propelling through the water is among the most soothing activities from the standpoint of sound and tactile sensation. A competitive element can be easily introduced if desired.
Horseback Riding. This is perfect for children who may have associated motor deficits prohibiting them from other sports.
Basketball. The repetitive act of shooting baskets is an activity with immediate gratification. Individual shooting games like “H-0-R-S-E” or “Around the World” provide fun competition.
Martial Arts. An outstanding way to improve balance and coordination.

Most importantly, when choosing an athletic activity for a child with autism, make sure it’s fun.

Socks are a key part of athletic attire

At one time, the only criteria for the purchase of athletic socks were that they be white and absorbent. A similar purchase today requires an advanced degree in materials management.

High quality athletic attire is often made from materials that have wicking and antimicrobial properties. Wicking materials are typically synthetics that lift moisture away from the skin. This creates a dry barrier between the body and garment. Names like “Dri-Lex” and “Dri-Fit” indicate that these wicking compounds are present.

Antimicrobial materials are designed to keep the article of clothing free of bacteria, fungi and mold. This reduces the chance for infecting any open wound. The use of silver-embedded fibers creates these antimicrobial capabilities.

Socks are among the articles of athletic attire that benefit most from these features. Constant friction between the foot and shoe will result in blisters. The combination of moisture and heat in a closed environment with an open wound will cause infection. Sharing unlaundered socks can cause spread of bacteria like MRSA.

“The key factors to choosing proper athletic socks are stitching and materials,” said Dr. Joseph Di Francesca, a Norwich podiatrist on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff.

The best socks are those that have no stitching since these serve as a source of irritation. He agrees that materials should be both wicking and antimicrobial. Di Francesca recommends socks made from merino wool since they have natural wicking properties and silver-based fibers that reduce infection and odor.

While these developments are the result of efforts to create a better athletic sock, the cross-over to non-athletic activities is easily understood. Many people who spend long hours on their feet, as well as those who suffer from chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and vascular disease, have also benefitted greatly.

While the purchase of athletic socks should not become a major life decision, there is more to it than just color.