DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 57 and play softball twice a week and racquetball two to three times a week. My job requires an extreme amount of physical exertion. I am able to do this in spite of my earlier years of partying with no regard for exercise. When I turned 50, I stopped all the negative activities and became health-conscious.

When and how are the best ways of getting ready to play sports to avoid injuries? Will stretching and warming up do it? — R.Z.

ANSWER: Stretching increases flexibility. Flexible joints are able to move through a greater range of motion than stiff joints. A flexible ankle, for example, ought to be less likely to suffer a sprain. Sprains are torn joint ligaments. I have to admit, however, that proof that stretching and increased flexibility lessen injuries is not all that great. Some experts feel that stretching does nothing at all as far as injury prevention.

Many sports, however, require great flexibility: gymnastics, diving, pitching, racquet sports and golf. In these sports, flexible joints improve a person’s performance.

The best way to stretch is to move a joint as far as possible without pain and hold that position for 20 to 30 seconds. Relax and repeat the stretch five to 10 times. Practice will make it possible to increase the extent of the stretch.

A shoulder stretch is done with the arms held out to the sides at shoulder level and with palms facing up. Bring the arms backward as if you were trying to touch your hands. Hold that position. Repeat.

For back and hamstring (the back of the thigh muscles) stretches, stand with feet shoulder width apart and head and arms dangling downward. Bend farther until you feel a stretch in the back and in the back of the thighs. Hold. Repeat.

Calf stretches are easily done on a stair. Let your heels project off the back of the stair. Rise on your toes and then lower yourself until your heels are beneath stair level, and hold that position.

Warm-ups do decrease the injury potential. A simple warm-up is jogging in place. It gets blood circulating to muscles, ligaments and joints, and limbers them.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a female and a runner. I have been running since high school. I am now 32. I have developed a burning pain in the middle of my pelvis, and it has forced me to stop running. What do you think this is? — S.J.

ANSWER: It could be osteitis pubis. The pelvis is shaped like a bowl. In front, the two sides of the bowl form a seam. When a person runs, shifting weight from one leg to the other irritates that middle seam and inflames it — osteitis pubis. It has a poor blood supply, so healing takes a long time. In addition to rest, an anti-inflammatory drug like Aleve or Advil might help.

You can stay in shape by swimming.

I’d feel better about this if you’d have your doctor examine you to verify this presumed diagnosis. Other things cause similar pain.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You answered a question by stating that heartbeat and pulse counting is an assurance of quality exercise. I have been using yoga, and I have become aware that complete stretching increases strength and balance along with teaching proper breathing. Please don’t overlook these aspects of body health. — J.M.

ANSWER: You’re right.

There are aspects of good health other than aerobic training. Yoga, tai chi and other exercise techniques don’t get the attention they merit. Balance training, one of the benefits of these exercises, is something we all need. Our sense of balance deteriorates with age.

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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