Intramural Sports - All Fun and Games?

  • Published
  • 47th Medical Operations Squadron
Do you like to play sports? Do you enjoy the fun, competitive, adventurous thrill you get when you gather a group of your friends and play a sport of choice? Do you always remember to properly plan and prepare for the multitude of injuries and problems an athletic encounter can bring? If you said "yes" to the first two questions, but "no" to the third, you're most likely within the norm. I think it's safe to venture to say that sports injuries are not at the top of our "worry list" when we're suiting up for a pick-up game or organized contest. I say all this to get you thinking about a few things that aren't always in the forefront of our brains. 

Dangers and risks of playing intramural sports include, but are not limited to: serious injury to virtually all internal organs, bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons; and serious neck and spinal injuries, which may result in complete or partial paralysis, brain damage, and even death. The injury may lead to a decrease in your general health and well-being or allow you to improperly perform the work you need to do at your job. 

Now that you know the gloom and doom that could come about from playing sports, let's look at a few simple steps to take in order to avoid previously listed dangers. 

If it's been a while since you've done physically demanding exercise, you may want to consider consulting your physician to give you the "thumbs up" before lacing up your basketball shoes. Perhaps you've been exercising, doing the weekly group PT routine, but maybe not to the extent you want to reach, or even to make it safely around the bases come softball season.  Make sure you gradually increase your exercise time and intensity to allow your body the needed adjustments to the extra stress. Keep hydrating and eating wellbalanced meals before and following exercise or a sporting event. 

One important piece of advice people tend to ignore is to "listen to your body." If you experience any sharp pain, weakness or light-headedness during exercise, pay attention. This is your body's way of signaling something is wrong, and you should stop exercise or the sport you're playing. Even if you live by the adage "pain is weakness leaving the body," pushing through acute pain is the fastest way to develop a severe or chronic injury. Following any type of strain or sprain, give your body adequate time to recover so you don't create additional injuries. 

If you were hoping to get through this article without hearing about the dreaded "S" word, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Yes, stretching does need to be addressed as it can be very valuable in preventing injuries and helping to reduce recovering time. However, most people have been taught to stretch their muscles before any activity, which may not be the best for your body. The best time to stretch is after warming up the muscles for 10-15 minutes with some dynamic exercise, in order for your muscles to have increased blood flow and oxygen exchange. Also, stretching during the "cool-down" phase, after your team has scored that winning shot, brings your muscles back to their optimal length and improves your range of motion. 

If you've been reading this article thinking that you've heard this from day one, you try to follow these rules, or perhaps they don't apply to you, this last submission may be a novel idea for the intramural athlete. Winning a game is not the end-all be-all. Being an overaggressive player can be detrimental not only to yourself, but to the others you're playing with. Not too many athletes enjoy losing, so it's only natural to give it your all, even pushing yourself beyond your physical limit. The problem with this is that most likely your body is not functioning quite the same as it did in high school, but you may not always recognize this. Perhaps you're the exception and you've maintained peak physical performance throughout the years, but even so, you're most likely going to be participating in mixed company, so maybe scaling it back a notch won't be the end of the world. Intramural sports are intended to be fun, increase morale, and a great way to get "fit to fight," but keep it at that - you're not in a professional game, match, etc. Keep it fun and competitive, minus the futile injuries. Take advantage of the unique fitness opportunities afforded through the military and use these tips to keep those pesky injuries at bay.