The Older Athlete

Considerations for the older athletes sporting injuries

Understanding our sporting population from 35 and above is important for the management of the older athlete
Many people are participating in high-intensity activities and sports over the age of 35 and we need to be aware of the physiology of normal ageing relative to the demands of higher intensity sport.

Access our PHYSIO's GUIDE on dealing with 9 of the most common Sporting Injuries

For the older athlete, there are differing needs as well as risks associated with higher intensity physical activity.

Our older athletes incur acute, traumatic injury or an overuse injury. The management principles of musculoskeletal injuries are no different from those in the younger athlete, however, these injuries are superimposed on an aging musculoskeletal system, and thus recovery may take longer.
The older athletic populations have accumulated decades of the same repetitive movements, on top of a growing list of nagging injuries, serious injuries, aches, pains, and so on.

Experienced assessment, management and treatment are particularly important with regard to an optimum but not delayed return to activity. Patient expectations, existing medical conditions and medications are important aspects to consider when advising these athletes appropriately.

We understand that their ability to recover from bouts of intense exercise can steadily diminish as they age. Therefore, recovery measures must take a front seat in their approach to getting better while staying healthy. That means advice also regarding standard sources of improved recovery, namely sleep and nutrition. Further information here: EXERCISE AND RECOVERY

However we appreciate that these athletes do not wish to be under treated as a consequence of their age and are often even more determined to overcome their injury or soreness and have a strong commitment to their recovery and rehab programs.

Three principles are usually taken into consideration for success and longevity of the older athletes:

The use it or lose it approach. This is where a continued ability to perform requires specific training and continuation of physical activity. This is called selective maintenance.
Adaptation and modification. Here our athletes are able to compensate for their decline in speed, strength and endurance by modifying their activity/ training/form. Known as compensation and
The selective nature of their personal make up - genetics and innate determination to continue is known as preserved differentiation.

At Hindmarsh and Fitzroy Physiotherapy we have experience in managing these aspects.

Most common Injuries

The most common injuries seen in the older athlete are muscle and joint injuries. 75% of these injuries involve the lower extremities, with the knee being the most commonly injured followed by the foot and ankle.
The most common mechanism of acute injury in the ageing endurance athlete is a fall or slip and those involved in strength or power sports sustain mostly acute sprains.

The management of the acute injury is along the lines of all acute injuries bearing in mind there may be a slower healing capacity. Longer term management needs to address the contributing factors in particular any decline in regulating postural stability. Focusing on maintaining and improving the proprioceptive and balance mechanisms and global core muscle strength are major factors in reducing the risk of future injury.

What can you do – we want to keep you going.

Slowing down seems synonymous with getting older, but you don't have to simply accept it. But what can you do to get the fastest results without taking chances

There are a number of preventative steps to take in order to decrease the risk of suffering from the common aches and pains the aging athlete suffers from.

  • Alter your sport periodically. eg If you are a runner, try cycling or swimming to give your knees a rest.
  • Maintaining flexibility is also crucial to avoiding muscle tears. Good flexibility helps prevent overuse injuries.
  • Strengthening exercises also help the body absorb impact from different sports. So establishing a good resistance workout routine is key.
  • Aerobic conditioning is one of the most crucial things to keep up with. It will not only help keep your endurance up, but it will also go a long way in reducing the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.

What else can you try

You can slow age-related declines in athletic speed with these training methods.

  • Hill Running or Interval Training can condition both the aerobic and the anaerobic system which results in dramatic fitness improvements.
  • Weight training can maintain muscle tone, strength and maintain fast twitch muscle fibres.
  • Plyometric exercises increase power and strength.

The common fitness declines that occur with aging include : changes in body composition with increased body fat and decreased muscle mass, loss of height (sometimes due to osteoporosis), diminished cardiorespiratory capacity and muscle atrophy. But older athletes are often able to compete in endurance exercise because they often have higher proportions of slow twitch fibres.

Additionally, it's estimated that much of the physical declines associated with aging aren't inevitable but are due to a detraining or deconditioning effect that comes from a decrease in exercise levels, frequency or intensity.

Research has found that seniors make quick improvements when they start to exercise. And there is growing evidence that suggests that seniors who exercise, not only reduce the physical declines of age but also protect their brains from age related decline. So don't let injury stop you.

If you are an older athlete experiencing acute or persistent pain, make a appointment with one of our physios who understand the special requirements of the older sports person.

There must always be an individual and informed approach when determining appropriate treatment and future management of the older athlete's injuries.