The best of 2010 makes for good advice for 2011

This is the time of year when looking back helps give direction for the future. After reviewing the “Healthy Sports” columns for 2010, it is clear that several themes developed:

• Many people faced with chronic illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s Disease fare better when they are involved in a fitness program. Yoga, dance and a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises can slow disease progression and improve symptoms. Remaining active is crucial when putting together an effective treatment plan.

• The long-standing effects of repeated brain trauma continue to be a focus of concern and research. This year, a connection between repeated head trauma and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was proposed. While this theory garnered a great deal of notoriety, much more research is needed before any conclusions can be made. It is encouraging to see many athletes who have been involved in violent collision sports now donating their brains for postmortem analysis.

• An area of national concern is safety in youth sports. This pertains to all sports where the participants are younger than 14. The lack of medically trained personnel in attendance, the violent nature of the individual sport and the fact that children are more susceptible to catastrophic injury are all factors that have heightened awareness. Thanks to this increased level of interest, USA Hockey is considering raising the age where checking is allowed to 14. A symposium sponsored by the National Football League and the American College of Sports Medicine will convene next month to address urgent safety modifications in youth sports.

The most rewarding trend is knowing that “Healthy Sports” readers continue to be active and safe in whatever sport they choose.

Sports can taken on new meaning during season of giving

Recently, You Tube and various news services brought us one of the most heartwarming stories in sports. It is especially appropriate during this season of giving.

Cross country runners compete on courses consisting of different types of terrain including steep inclines and dramatic descents. In this year’s California state high school championships, a young competitor named Holland Reynolds was in third place after two miles of a three-mile race when she hit what runners call “the wall.”

The wall is best described as the point in physical competition when large skeletal muscles become depleted of essential nutrients. This is manifested by extreme exhaustion and muscle cramping.

Although Holland is a well-trained athlete, she had been recovering from a flu-like illness the day of the race but felt well enough to compete in the crucial event. Unfortunately, with only several yards remaining in the race, exhaustion led to paralysis and left her crawling to the finish line.

Her effort resulted in victory for her team, but her motivation for continuing was much deeper than winning a trophy. Her coach, Jim Tracy, has been fighting his own battle with exhaustion since being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

ALS is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects motor nerves that are responsible for triggering muscle movement. It results in progressive paralysis and eventual death. Coach Tracy’s persistence in continuing to work with his team despite adversity is what served as inspiration for Reynolds.

Many sports stories emphasize winning at all costs. Athletics is truly an adventure that lets everyone involved find out more about themselves. This series of events exemplifies what is best about sports and competition.

Give the gift of fitness this holiday season

The Christmas marketing assault continues as many consumers prepare to purchase gifts for family members and friends. The wide variety of offerings for athletes deserves some scrutiny.

Recently, there has been a surge in high-tech computerized items as well as expensive pieces of equipment. Novel fitness presents can add interest to a workout and many of the best items are not costly.

Some items worth considering:

Suspension Trainers. Body weight suspension trainers provide a simple approach to resistance training. Athletes use their body weight to provide resistance in a variety of positions. The apparatus is a series of straps that are braced on a beam or pole. The exercises allow multiple muscle groups to be exercised during the movement. Many of the maneuvers are variations on push ups, sit ups and pull ups with an aerial component.

Kettlebells. A kettlebell is best described as a cannonball with a handle. Its use provides an excellent workout that includes cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility elements. They come in different weights and are excellent for exercising both limb and core muscles. The dynamic component allows imitation of actual movements in a particular sport. Starting with low weight is crucial to avoiding injury.

Safety Items. Many runners continue their workouts in “rain, sleet, snow and gloom of night.” If a member of this hardcore group is on your list, consider lights or clothing that add visibility, devices that bring warmth to cold extremities and anything that provides gripping power to sneakers on slippery surfaces.

• Lessons. A gift certificate for a class or lesson in an area of interest for the recipient can provide a special experience. Sometimes this can serve to begin a new challenge.

Fitness-related gifts can be an inexpensive investment in good health.

Longer seasons means longer disabled lists

As athletic seasons lengthen, so does the list of injured and disabled players. This trend is most prominent in collision sports like football, hockey and lacrosse.

Many teams are now competing for championships, bowl positions and other awards. Athletes are being seriously recruited for scholarships or professional contracts. It is not by coincidence that the most intense competition happens when individuals and teams are most challenged by fatigue and injury.

During this part of the season, a good working relationship between the medical staff and coaching staff is essential. Athletic trainers and team physicians must weigh the risks to athletes when granting permission to play after an injury.

In the past, these decisions were straightforward and based on the type of injury and what were very limited resources for rehabilitation. In sports medicine today, many new surgical and medical modalities allow for athletes to return sooner without significant risk.

The most noteworthy advancements have been in the area of orthopedic surgery. Athletes now return as soon as the week after injury when previously, similar fractured bones eliminated them for the season.

Their recovery is due to the insertion of hardware in the form of plates and screws that align the fracture. This stabilizes the site and allows a speedy recovery.

The resourcefulness of athletic trainers is an important component. One example is a quarterback who is able to return thanks to the creative design of an immobilizing boot fashioned around a football shoe. Another example is a defensive player who is able to start at his position only days after having hardware applied for a hand fracture using a specially designed glove/cast.

As football season comes to a close, good coaches know that some of their most valuable assets work in the training room and have the initials “ATC” after their names.