Tips for Older Adults: Ways to Avoid Injuries During Sports and Exercise
Your Aging Body
Our bodies slowly change with age, but our need for physical activity does not. It promotes physical and mental well-being. Let's look at why the risk of injury is higher as you get older.
Tendons and ligaments lose elasticity as we age. This can limit range of motion in the joints and make them more prone to injury. Older bodies also take longer to recover from injuries.
Aging can also mean muscle loss. It often begins in the mid-40s. It may decline as much as 10% after the age of 50. This muscle loss can also mean a decline in physical abilities. This can result in weight gain. Luckily, regular exercise can slow muscle loss. People who do not use their muscles regularly have tissues that become weak.
Sprains (stretching or tearing of a ligament) and strains (stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon) are common in the shoulders, knees, and ankles of older adults. These injuries may only cause minor pain or stiffness. Some people don't think they have a problem and try to work through the pain. This may lead to more soreness and injury. Other common injuries are tennis elbow, Achilles tendinopathy, and shin splints.
A few safety steps will help you keep safe while staying strong.
How to Avoid Injury
The key to living a long life is exercising on most days of the week. You may need to exercise at a slower pace or for shorter periods of time than you did when you were younger. Remember that you may not be able to play hoops like your 30-year-old colleagues or play as many back-to-back tennis matches as you once did.
Make changes to your routine and play smart. Before you get started, follow these tips to lower the risk of injury:
- Get a physical exam. Talk with your doctor. Find out if you have any health problems that would cause problems exercising. If so, try to create an activity plan within the scope of your ability.
- Find a balanced exercise program. Do not rely on one sport to keep you in shape. Follow a program that includes cardio, strength training, and stretching.
- Warm up before and cool down after physical activity. Adding a few minutes to your warm up can make your workouts smoother. Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Try some light jogging or walking.
- Keep it regular. Do not cram your activity into the weekend. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- Take lessons. Hire a certified trainer to learn proper techniques for your sport or in the gym.
- Get the right equipment. You want to make sure the gear you use for your activity is in good shape. You'll also want to make sure you use it the right way. Think about the condition of your shoes or whether you will need a helmet.
- Follow the 10% rule. Increase your activity level in 10% increments to lower the risk of injury. This rule also applies to lifting weights.
- Add new exercises with care. Do not take on too many activities at once. Slowly add them into your routine.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to the messages your body is sending you. If your knees hurt after you ski, find an easier slow or try an activity that does not hurt your knees.
- Be careful about jumping back into your routine. Slowly return to your workout routine after any illness or injury.
- Seek medical help if you injure yourself. Call your doctor if you have an injury that does not get better with home care. Some injuries will not go away on their own without treatment.
The more active you are the better your body will age. Play smart, listen to your body, and you will find more abilities than limits.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Sports Med—American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
The Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Effects of aging. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/effects-of-aging. October 13, 2021.
Making physical activity a part of an older adult's life. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/getactive/olderadults.html. Accessed October 13, 2021.
Physical activity guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines. Accessed October 13, 2021.
Sports injury prevention for baby boomers. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/sports-injury-prevention-for-baby-boomers. Accessed October 13, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/13/2021