What you need to know to prevent Boomeritis

Date Published: 
Dec. 2, 2016

It’s been dubbed Boomeritis, and there have been a slew of attempts at humor, such as calling it “the battle of wounded knees.” But, Boomeritis is real, and it’s no laughing matter.

Boomeritis is the nickname given to the explosion of injuries that have come about as Baby Boomers try to stay active. It’s packed a punch, with a long list of injuries, and it’s actually creating an added problem, because it’s contributed to soaring health costs.

It’s not that you should be sedentary — quite the opposite. You all know that I am a strong advocate for active lifestyles, as are medical professionals across the country and around the world. So, what’s the deal with Boomeritis and how can you avoid it? We’re going to take a look together, because you need to have the facts to understand what you may be doing to cause yourself unnecessary pain and injuries.

The term Boomeritis was created by Pennsylvania orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, who said initially he coined the term as a joking reference to what he was seeing amongst older athletes and maturing Boomer patients.

Folks who were telling him they just wanted to stay healthy and recognized staying active is key to better health and quality of life were flooding his office with a huge list of injuries. The doctor quickly realized it was a very serious problem, and his concern has become underscored as it continues to be echoed by droves of health experts.

National prominence became clear in a report about Boomeritis and its financial impact that was issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2000. At that point, there had been a 33 percent increase in sports-related injuries amongst Baby Boomers based on a study that spanned 1991 to 1998.

The price tag associated with these injuries in 1996 alone had reached nearly $19 billion. Since that time, the costs have continued to rise at an unbelievable rate, and reports of explosive numbers of so-called Boomeritis injuries continue to come from sports-medicine clinics, hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics and orthopedic surgical practices at extraordinary levels.

So what the heck is Boomeritis?

Everyone’s bodies age, and as the years go by, overuse injuries, improper preparation for activities and exercise, and a sort of denial about how much aging bodies can take compared to earlier years is yielding the tsunami of injuries. Boomers are seeing injuries from cycling, swimming, running, skating, basketball, weightlifting and all sorts of sports and activities.

As a result, they have become the second-highest reason for folks of the Boomer generation to make an appointment with their doctor. At the heart of it is a simple matter of fact: You need to change how you approach an active lifestyle.

Let’s go back to what I said earlier. Staying active is a driving force to staying healthy and is a proven factor in living longer. What you have to recognize is that your joints and bones age. It’s a fact of life, but injuries don’t have to be a problem.

The answer to avoiding injuries lies in a simple formula. It’s about your approach to exercise and exercise preparation, paying attention to what your body is telling you, maintaining proper nutrition, balance in your approach to activities and getting the help you need before things go wrong or if they do go wrong.

If you’re one of the smart folks who wants to get exercising, but you haven’t been doing any real form of activity for a while, see a doctor first. I know you keep reading that advice in my column, but I am amazed by the number of people I treat who thought they could avoid this critical step. Don’t kid yourself and don’t risk unnecessary problems or injuries. See a doctor to discuss it.

Remember to bring a list of all your medications, including vitamins and any supplements, to review with your medical professional. Has anything changed in your health profile since you last consulted with you doctor? Share that information and remember to include when you first notice a change, what you are feeling and what the symptoms have been like.

It’s always a good ideal to write everything down before you go, so you don’t forget something important that could be important to what your doctor’s advice will be based on your personal needs.

With proper input from the doctor, you’re ready to go. Now, you need to arm yourself with the right information. Your doctor may suggest having guidance with or some assistance with your exercise program. Don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends going to a physical therapy practice that offers exercise programs like the one I offer.

Your doctor will consult with a properly trained physical therapist to share your needs and make sure the plan that is devised will be right for you. It may be you just need to get started with a supervised program or you may need long-term guidance. Look for a program that offers proper supervision. Look for proper pricing, too. It should be inexpensive and right for your budget. If it’s not, you need to keep looking.

For those of you doing it on your own, the same elements a physical therapist would take into consideration and the same sport-specific advice comes into play.

The first key to avoiding injury is simple. Begin with a proper diet. Nutrition is a huge part of staying healthy. Without the proper fuel, you are setting yourself up for problems.

As you exercise or enjoy your favorite activity, keep hydrated. Water serves as the body’s regulator. It balances your body temperature, and it is a sort of cushion that protects your organs. When you exercise, your body loses more fluid than it would if you are sitting and reading a book, doing a crossword puzzle or watching television.

You should always begin with a proper warmup and stretch before you start your activity or exercise program. Muscles that are cold or tight leave you at higher risk of injury. There’s also a reality that comes with age. Doctors tell us that as we age, our muscles are more vulnerable to injury. They develop scar tissue, and they lose their elasticity.

You want to stretch only after you have done some warmups. Begin with 5 to 10 minutes of activity like pedaling on an aerobic bike, walking for a few blocks or running in place so you have prepared properly for the next phase of activity.

Shake up your activity plan. Overuse injuries result from using the same muscles over and over again. If you are used to cycling a few days a week, try alternating with some walking. If you swim a few times a week, try something different to switch it up. It will give the muscles a break and help you avoid painful injury.

Balance is an important part of an active lifestyle. Try a mix that includes flexibility exercises with some cardiovascular activity and even some strength training. Balance works different muscles along with proper cardiovascular health.

Pace yourself. As you change your activity level, be gradual in your approach. You can’t go from low to high gear and expect your body to do well with it. If you walk, try increasing your distance gradually. If you run, add two or three minutes in a week and then maintain that for another week or two before adding another minute or two. Slow and easy will win every time.

Don’t outsmart yourself. Use protective gear that is appropriate to your sport. Helmets, proper shoes, knee pads, elbow pads and other sport appropriate protection are really important. It frustrates me when I hear someone talk about important injury protection gear as if using it is a sign of weakness. The truth is it’s smart.

Listen to your body. If you notice issues arising, don’t just keep going. A change might be necessary. And, if you are feeling new aches or pains, don’t ignore it. See a doctor immediately.

Those generation Xers and Millennials would be smart to incorporate the same advice that I’m giving you if they want to keep healthy, active lifestyles overtime. Let’s face it — we’re all going to age, and it sure beats the alternative, so get moving, stay active and be smart about how you do it and the choices you make.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.