Winter’s over, such as it is. Now, we’re all getting active again. SpaceCoast Living reached out to Health First’s manager of rehabilitation services, Olivier Corbeel, to learn more about getting back in the swing of things safely and successfully. Corbeel has been with Health First since 1991 and knows a thing or two about rehabilitation and perhaps more importantly, injury prevention.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, when we talk about weekend warriors, we’re talking about those who do most of their exercise or activity over the weekend. During the week, they’re working and doing kid activities, and don’t necessarily have time to exercise. Then, over the weekend, these folks start doing an excessive amount of exercise or activity, and sometimes that can lead to injury.

Corbeel says the type of injuries he sees most often are sprained ligaments. To be more specific, the most common are ankle injuries, such as ankle sprains, the more traumatic Achilles rupture, plantar fasciitis and shin splints.

“These are usually the people who start running again, getting ready for that summer race or spring race series,” says Corbeel. “But we also see a lot of the tennis elbows, wrist injuries and overuse injuries.”

Also, there are low-back injuries. “That’s not necessarily from sport, per se, but it could be from people starting to be enthusiastic about redoing the yard or working around the house,” Corbeel says.

Corbeel wants to be certain none of this scares you away from getting out there and being active.

“Research has always proven, especially with our senior population, or aging population, that exercise, even a little bit, is beneficial,” he says. “Not only for your general health, but also mental health, stress relief, delaying aging and delaying symptoms of aging. Staying in bed is the wrong answer.”

THE SECRET TO EXERCISING SUCCESS

Here’s the secret to avoiding injury (and it really isn’t a secret). If you’re active, you know this (though you might forget), but even if you’re new to a particular activity, this is common sense. Learn how to warm up and to build back up to the intensity level you left off last season or last practice.

“If you try to get back to, let’s say, playing tennis or golf for an hour,” Corbeel says, “maybe you should start halfway, with a less lofty goal. Start the first time with 20 minutes or so.”

He emphasizes that stretching is very important, including stretching after activity.

“One of the problems we have is that if we don’t exercise we lose some of the strength. We lose some of the flexibility,” Corbeel says. “If you warm up properly before your activity, you can feel whether you’re prepared to do more or not.”

As opposed to directly starting an activity, when you warm up, you can get a fairly good idea of how your body is responding. Are you suddenly out of breath? Are you starting to experience pain? That should be a good indicator to maybe rethink that activity right then. Weekend warriors tend not to listen to warning signs.

Corbeel outlines what often happens: “It will hurt a little bit, ‘…but I can tough it out. I can do this again.’ And then they go through the pain; now they get into inflammation. They get into injury.” Corbeel’s suggestion is to listen to your body.

He then offered this cautionary tale:

“Recently, we had a 50-year-old female martial arts instructor, a professional, who’d moved here from California. She hadn’t done much of the training since she’d arrived, but suddenly got called to do a demonstration. She would tell you, ‘I wasn’t trained, I wasn’t warmed up, I wasn’t prepared; I thought I could just do it again.’ So, it had been a few months, and she did a single move and tore her ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament, and her LCL, both at once. She didn’t realize that she didn’t have the same strength as when she practiced regularly.”

YOU CAN PLAY NOW AND PAY LATER

“Take a golfer,” Corbeel suggests. “It’s June. He’s gone out and he’s not warmed up. If he stops and listens to his body, he’ll play again next weekend or in a few days when the soreness goes away. And maybe he’s learned from that and maybe he’ll do a little stretching next time. Better yet, maybe he starts an exercise regimen during the week to make himself more flexible. Or he doesn’t listen and injures himself.”

Once injured, the window of time to return could be six to eight weeks or more. Corbeel wants the process to be clear.

“Initially an injured athlete is going to consult with their physician,” he says. “If there’s a problem, then depending on the injury and its severity, the physician would recommend either therapy or more studies and tests.”

“We see the same problem in tennis,” Corbeel says. “Most of it is overuse injury. People starting out in the spring play the five sets that they used to play at the end of last season. Then they play against people who have been playing all year long. So while certainly the warming up and stretching is important, don’t try to pick up where you left off at the end of the last season, before you went back to Wisconsin.”

He added, “Before you start having tennis elbow, you’ll feel it. It’s not something that just comes on all at once. Tennis elbow is progressive. Learn when to back off when you first notice it.”

If you start to feel something is off, maybe engage in some other activities (cross training) to build up your endurance during the week before you play golf, or in between 5K races. The alternative is that you risk missing that six to eight weeks through injury, rehab or worse.

“If we’re talking about runners with shin splints or plantar fasciitis, they can be sidelined for six months,” Corbeel says. “A simple injury like that can ruin an entire season, and that’s not even considering the traumatic stuff.”

DON’T NEGLECT THE HEALTH OF YOUR EQUIPMENT

Corbeel offers one last tip.

“Make sure that your equipment is in proper functioning order,” he says. “That goes a long way in preventing some injuries. If it is as simple as shoes, most likely the shoes that you used last summer are totally compressed and have absolutely no foam left, or no elasticity left in the sole. That’s a big cause of injury. I’ve also had many people come back with bicycle-related injuries, hurting terribly because they dropped the seat too low, and their knees were coming up way too high on their pedal stroke.”

So, warm up. Stretch. Make sure your equipment’s in good shape, whatever that might be. Explore new shoes for any sport, because even the technology that’s changed from season to season can help you. And take it easy at first. Get everything tuned-up (including yourself ), adjusted and upgraded before you start this new season of activity. Then, work back up to that championship performance.