Warmer weather brings need for acclimatization

Acclimatization is the process by which an organism adjusts to a change in the environment. Now that warmer weather has arrived and many athletes have decided to get back into action, acclimatization is a crucial element to any regimen.

In sports, acclimatization is best applied to structural and metabolic functions. Structural aspects include muscles, tendons and bones and how they work together. Metabolic systems provide energy to support movement and activity.

In order to avoid potential structural injuries, athletes should stretch adequately before beginning a workout. Starting slowly with a shorter exercise interval and a moderate pace helps. A non-jarring workout such as swimming or cycling before hitting the road for a long run is advisable.

The most reliable indication of a structural problem is pain. Discomfort for 24 hours after a workout is not uncommon but after that, pain should subside. If muscle and joint pain persist or worsen, a medical evaluation is advised.

Metabolic injury can result from extreme physical stress, dehydration, oxygen deprivation or a combination of these factors.

Muscle breakdown from overexertion results in the release of enzymes from damaged muscles. This condition, known as rhabdomyolysis, can lead to renal failure.

Dehydration in the face of working out in hot weather can lead to heat stroke and cardiac failure.

Workouts at high altitude can lead to dizziness and headaches from changes in oxygen concentration.

“Injuries due to metabolic overload typically occur when an athlete is being pushed to work harder by a coach or personal trainer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Connecticut. Coaches at all levels must be aware of human limitations, especially at the youth sports level, according to Anderson.

The human body has built-in warning signs of impending disaster, including lightheadedness, fatigue and pain. It’s only when these signs are ignored that tragedy occurs.

Regenerative medicine makes older athletes new again

Some athletes have successfully returned to their sports after reconstructive surgery and superseded their preoperative performances. The latest example is the return of pitcher Bartolo Colon who, after elbow surgery in 2010, has returned to his previous award-winning form.

Much of the credit for his return is being given to “regenerative medicine.” The field of regenerative medicine involves the use of stem cells to repair or replace damaged tissues. Regenerative medicine is based on recent breakthroughs in cell biology and presents seemingly endless possibilities toward the treatment of injuries and disease.

Stem cells are key elements in this exciting new field. Stem cells are found in organisms and have the ability to differentiate into various tissues. The most vivid example occurs in embryonic development but adult stem cells can be found in a variety of tissues.

Bone marrow is an abundant source of stem cells. Transplanting compatible stem cells between individuals has become fundamental in treating cancers that involve blood cells.

Orthopedic applications of regenerative medicine involve the repair and regeneration of tendons and ligaments. These procedures require a scaffold to build on, growth factors and stem cells. Finding the right combination of these essential items continues to be a formidable challenge.

“The science behind regenerative procedures is very solid but no one has been able to successfully apply these elements to the satisfaction of the FDA and insurance companies,” said Dr. Michael Joyce, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports-related injuries. Until then, he warns that athletes must be wary of ineffective, expensive substitutes.

Regenerative medicine will likely play a role in the treatment of athletic injuries in the future but at this time the only thing these procedures seem to regenerate is an athlete’s confidence.