Jack and Mary York arrived in Southwest Florida with all the hope and excitement of first-time snowbirds. The Monday they landed, the couple took down hurricane shutters, hosed off the pool deck, stocked the fridge and rearranged the living room furniture. By nightfall, Mary’s back and knees were aching. The next morning she could hardly move.
Jack, on the other hand, still felt spry. He spent the day playing golf with a friend. In fact, he spent every day that week playing golf, ignoring the pain in his shoulder that grew worse with each swing. By the weekend, he could no longer even raise his arm to put on his shirt.
You may know this couple, though almost certainly by another name. The Yorks are a composite of the many seasonal visitors who dive into their vacation—without physical preparation. Back, shoulder and knee injuries resulting from such overuse are quite typical, especially during season, say local orthopedic surgeons. Fortunately, these injuries are also highly treatable.
Housework. Rejoice, gentlemen! You now have an excuse to say "no" when asked to move the sofa under the window … no, wait, against that wall … no, no, the other wall.
"Moving furniture around the house at the beginning of season or the end of season tends to injure a lot of people," says Dr. Steven Goldberg, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Physicians Regional Medical Center in Naples.
You may still have to help around the house, but only in moderation—doctor’s orders. "I see a lot of [patients] who have a week’s worth of handiwork and try to get it crammed into a day or so," Goldberg says.
Golf and tennis. Dr. James Guerra, an orthopedic surgeon at Naples Community Hospital, mends broken bones and other major injuries as the team physician for Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. Most of his patients, however, are "baby boomers who have waited all their lives to be able to play golf or tennis every single day," he says. As a result, they sometimes end up with tendinitis, a torn rotator cuff (in the shoulder) or a torn meniscus (in the knee).
"I’m not saying you can’t play almost every day, but you do need to build up to that level if you’ve been playing once a week or every two weeks," Guerra says.
Fishing. Think it’s a relaxing sport? In fact, it can be very stressful on the body, Goldberg says. Fishing may be low-impact, but the repetition of casting and the strength required simply to hold the rod for extended periods can strain your back and shoulders.
And don’t forget the challenge posed by an uneven dock or unstable boat. You could strain your back and knees in a stumble and do more damage if you fall.
What should you do if you’re like Mary, with aching joints after a day of housework, or Jack, with searing pain every time you lift your arm?
RICE. An acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation, it’s the recommended protocol for most initial pain after activity. Combined with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as Advil, you should see improvement in a day or two. If not, you should see a doctor.
Physical therapy. Physical therapy is recommended for more serious injuries and, in the state of Florida, it requires a physician’s prescription. Depending on the problem, a physical therapist will work on range of motion, flexibility and building strength.
Surgery. It’s a last resort—one that Rosa Duckler, a longtime fitness professional in Naples, hoped to avoid. She began feeling shoulder pain about five years ago, and the more she helped her clients lift weights, the worse she felt. She tried RICE. After seeing Goldberg and receiving an MRI that revealed a torn rotator cuff and torn bicep, she went to physical therapy. Finally, when the pain kept her up for nights, she caved to her doctor’s recommendation for surgery.
He performed an arthroscopic double row rotator cuff repair, which is the strongest, most minimally invasive, cutting-edge method for repairing the rotator cuff. After the successful operation, he recommended three months of restricted activity.
Duckler continued to exercise but was careful to not undermine her recovery. "The doctor said to me, ‘You know your body. Let your body tell you what you can do and what you can’t, and listen to it,’" she says.
The lesson seems clear: Don’t overdo it. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to slow down—much. Guerra and Goldberg agree that you can play aggressively, fish long hours and even tackle a ton of housework, as long as your body is conditioned for it. They offer the following fitness tips to keep you off the sidelines:
■ Take lessons in your favorite sports. Common golf and tennis injuries result from poor form. "People who play golf and tennis with good technique get injured less than people who don’t, by far," Goldberg says.
■ Warm up before you play. "When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you can probably get away with showing up two or three minutes before a game," Guerra says. As you get older, the warm-up becomes even more important. Run around the court a few times. Do jumping jacks. Stretch before and after the game.
■ Vary your activity. Whether you’re washing floors or swinging at tennis balls, avoid repeating the activity every day of the week. Your body needs time to recover and heal.
■ Hire a trainer. A common cause of some sports injuries, such as a pulled hamstring, is an imbalance of muscle strength in the body. Guerra says trainers who have degrees in exercise physiology can identify weaker muscles and help you develop them, and also help strengthen muscles that will help improve your game.