July 16, 2020

Avoiding Injury While Recreating Outdoors—But Safe Care Is Available if You Need It

Couple mountain biking togetherBy Carolyn Comeau

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper put a stay-at-home order into effect in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. It was lifted on May 22, to many outdoor enthusiasts’ and athletes’ reliefs.

This meant that citizens could again enjoy the outdoors with more frequency, while observing social distancing etiquette. Even though the anticipated late-June move to Phase 3 was delayed, people can still enjoy parks and the great outdoors, which have become sanity savers for avid athletes, weekend warriors, bikers and hikers alike.

Injury Is Inevitable

According to Asheville Orthopaedic Associates primary care sports medicine physician Thomas Starnes, MD, he and his colleagues see an uptick in sports and outdoor activity-related injuries during a typical summer. With community members feeling cooped up for months this year due to isolation requirements, he imagined there may be even more this year.

“The most common injuries we see are to the wrist, ankle and collarbone, as well as knee injuries,” he said. “Whether our patients play organized sports or get hurt while hiking, mountain biking or trail running, falls and other unexpected mishaps happen.”

Take It Easy

Dr. Starnes cautioned that overzealousness is one of the biggest risks for getting injured. “I treated an accomplished high school runner recently who was in the middle of her high school training program when COVID-19 caused it — and any formal training — to shut down,” he said. “On her own, she decided to increase her mileage more and suffered a pretty significant overuse injury, unfortunately.”

Protective strategies do exist for people getting back on track with their outdoor exercise programs, however. “First, it’s always important to include rest days in your exercise routine. Younger athletes in school programs usually have them incorporated into their schedules, and I try to impress the need for them to all my patients; even pro athletes understand this is essential,” said Dr. Starnes.

Mixing It Up

A rest day doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, though. Dr. Starnes encouraged patients to do something different than their regular activity, like cross-training, so they’re not engaging in the same repetitive movements all the time. “Most of us have our favorite exercises,” said Dr. Starnes. “Runners want to run, cyclists want to cycle. Mixing in cross training a day or two per week is not only a safeguard against injury, it actually makes you a better overall athlete.”

Dr. Starnes also advised an “easy-does-it” attitude when approaching outdoor exercise, citing the fact that injuries occur because people feel like they need to make up for lost time — whether they’re getting back on the hiking trail after a long winter or getting out from under the limitations that COVID-19 created. “We recommend that people build back up to their previous level of fitness gradually, over time. For example, a runner should increase their mileage no more than 10 percent of their weekly total if they decide to kick it up a notch,” he said.

Safe Orthopedic Care Available, However You Need It

No matter how or when someone gets injured, Dr. Starnes wants the community to know that Asheville Orthopaedic Associates is open and safely serving patients. “We’re happy to offer our services in person to those who suffer fractures and other injuries. We’ve put precautions in place, like screening our patients and ourselves before entering the building and universal masking, so patients can rest assured that the care we provide is safe,” said Dr. Starnes. “Our normally scrupulous hygiene standards and sanitary treatment procedures have carried over as well.”

Telehealth visits are also available to patients. “If I’m relaying test results or doing something else that doesn’t require me to lay hands on a patient, a virtual visit is absolutely a viable option,” said Dr. Starnes. “We’re happy to meet the patient where they are, literally and figuratively, to give them the care they need.”

Thomas Starnes, MD, is a primary care sports medicine physician at Asheville Orthopaedic Associates.

To learn more about sports medicine services at Mission Health, click here.