Sore backs in young athletes need attention

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 11-year-old girl who loves to run, horseback ride, swim and climb rocks. The problem is that I have scoliosis, and it limits the things I can do. For a while I went to a place where I did exercises, but I wasn’t interested in them and stopped doing them. My back feels better, but I know the problem is still there. When I sit at school, my back kills me, and when rock-climbing, I can’t do the things I would have to do if I become a pro. Please give me some suggestions. – C.H.

ANSWER: My first suggestion is for your parents. They need to take you to a doctor who can determine how bad your scoliosis is. Only with that knowledge can you get instructions on how best to deal with your back.

Scoliosis is an S-shaped spinal curve. The spine curves to the right or left in the upper back, returns to the middle and then curves once more in the lower back to make an “S.” The curve might start in early infancy – rare. It can begin between the ages of 4 and 10 – more common. Or it starts around age 11 – most common. The curve is often discovered in school or during a routine physical exam. Parents might notice that the child has one shoulder higher than the other or a leg shorter than the other.

An X-ray of the spine permits the doctor to accurately measure the angle of curvature. Small angles require only observation to see if the curve is increasing. Larger curvatures call for braces. Very large curvatures could need surgical correction.

Someone your age should not have back pain. The only way to get rid of it is to have a doctor evaluate your spine.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’ve been running for five years. I have stopped making any progress. I don’t know if that’s because I am not pushing myself, or because I have reached the limits my body is programmed for. How can I tell? – V.R.

ANSWER: Interval training can settle the issue for you. It’s a way to introduce some freshness into a program that might have gotten stale. It consists of periodically increasing the intensity of your exercise for a short time during your exercise sessions.

For a runner, it would be speeding up to maximum capacity for about 30 seconds during the regular run, then returning to a normal pace and staying there until the runner recovers from the speed-up. During a run, the runner shifts into fast gear three or four times. Don’t make a regular practice of interval training. Keep it limited to three times a week.

Once a person is used to the 30-second drill, the speed-up times are increased. The aim is to eventually stay running fast for a minute and then slow down to the regular pace for three or four minutes, then repeating the cycle. That is a ratio of 1-to-3, or 1-to-4. As this becomes easy, change the ratio to 1-to-2.

If you cannot manage interval training, then your body is telling you it’s not for you or that you need a rest. Taking a break for a week could also be the answer.

For readers who would like to start a fitness program, the booklet on that subject outlines how to go about it. Write to: Dr. Donohue – No. 1301, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I tried to catch a baseball barehanded. The ball hit the tip of my middle finger and bent it upward. I can’t get it down. What can I do? – R.B.

ANSWER: You can and should see your doctor. You have likely torn that finger’s tendon away from its attachment.

The tendon often retracts downward toward the palm. If this is the case, it will have to be surgically reattached. It should be done quickly after the injury. I hope you haven’t waited until now to see about it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a slew of skin tags dangling from my neck. I would like to cut them off myself. My husband won’t let me do it. He says I should see a doctor, but I don’t want to see a doctor for such a trivial thing. Would it be OK if I took matters into my own hands? What are these things anyway? – S.M.

ANSWER: Skin tags are flesh-colored, little icicle-like skin growths that hang down from the skin, usually the skin of the neck or the skin adjacent to the armpit.

At one time, the suggestion was made that they might be indicators of colon cancer, but that’s something that hasn’t panned out.

Skin tags are not cancers and don’t turn into cancers. What makes them grow is an unanswered question.

The temptation to snip them off on your own is great, but you shouldn’t try it. For one, you want to be certain that you’re dealing with a skin tag and not something else.

For two, there is always the possibility of infection when you mess around with your skin. A doctor can get rid of them with sterile instruments, burn them off with electric current or freeze them off with liquid nitrogen. You aren’t bothering him or her with trivialities. Removal usually puts an end to them. A few people, however, will see regrowth or the appearance of replacement skin tags.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com

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