Core stability, flexibility provide strong foundation for sports and recreation

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Christopher Stark

Like most outdoor enthusiasts and endurance athletes, I have experienced injuries that can be painful and debilitating.

Athletes can prevent many of the most common injuries and avoid significant setbacks in achieving their training goals with proper core stability and flexibility.

Core stability is essential for proper form and mechanics while performing sports skills. It deals with the proper coordination of the key muscles used to support the spinal column in its natural curve. Core stability is the coordinated effort of the deep muscles of the trunk, pelvis, hips, abdominal muscles and small muscles along the spinal column. These muscles contract together to create force used to hold the spinal column in alignment.

Range of motion also is an important part of any conditioning program. Increasing flexibility improves joint motion, while a decrease in flexibility results in less motion at the joint. Enhanced flexibility can provide many benefits, including a decrease in the occurrence of injury, pain relief and advances in athletic performance.

For example, one of the most common flexibility issues is tight or short hamstring muscles. Short hamstrings can limit hip flexion and knee extension that can lead to joint pain and injury. There also is a direct correlation of hamstring shortness and the occurrence of low back pain. 

As an orthopedic surgeon and sport medicine specialist, I often treat injuries, in beginner and advanced athletes, caused by working out too hard, too quickly and not following proper techniques. The key to preventing long-term injuries is balance — balance among the muscle groups and balance between strength and flexibility training and aerobic fitness.

An effective strategy for achieving balance is to add cross training to your schedule. That might mean you run or perform some other aerobic exercise three to four days per week and alternate with strength and flexibility training. For brand-new runners, I recommend choosing a softer impact surface such as a track, trail or treadmill, all of which are a little easier on the body than a concrete surface. This is particularly important for those who are overweight when they begin a new running routine.

Stretching before and after aerobic exercise is extremely important and it is helpful to perform stretching exercises again in the evening before going to bed. Yoga and Pilates can help increase core stability and flexibility.

Keep in mind that low-impact exercises will provide great results with a much lower chance of injury. If you have arthritis, low-impact exercises such as aqua jogging, swimming, using an elliptical trainer and riding a bicycle will provide aerobic fitness and strength training while decreasing some of the arthritic pain.

Should you incur an injury, it is important to stop when the pain is a whisper, instead of waiting until it is a scream. Runners often get fixated on a training schedule. However, it is far better to go into a race a little undertrained but fully healthy.

When caught early, 90 percent of musculoskeletal problems can be mitigated easily. Kneecap pain or “runners knee” is a great example. Usually, fine muscles are weaker on one side than the other, which causes the patella to track poorly. In most cases, this can be overcome by focusing on specific muscle strengthening.

Do not try to run through injury. Decrease intensity or take a few days off. Consider using a stationary bike or water jogging in place of running. If the problem persists, consult a sports medicine specialist to help address the problem and get you quickly back on track.

Stark, an orthopedic surgeon with the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee, specializes in sports medicine, joint replacement, shoulder and upper extremity care, general orthopedics and rehabilitation. He also is an avid marathon runner, triathlete and Iron Man competitor.

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