By Jonathan Morgan, Team OAM Now Cyclist
After 38 years of competition where I remained relatively unscathed, I unfortunately had a serious injury during the Noquemenon Ski Marathon last winter. I would have bet strongly that a serious injury requiring surgery would come as a result of a bike racing crash, but not Nordic skiing…a beautiful, enthralling sport where there is nothing to fall on but soft snow. Right? Unfortunately, I found a way to crash at a high speed, on some odd bumps, pitch both forward and back, and eventually do a sort of split that resulted in severed hamstring tendons…and a left leg that didn’t work in one direction. Fortunately, we have some great resources as athletes representing a group of Orthopedic surgeons, so after surgery I’ve recovered almost to 100% and I can rightfully claim to be a “master” in this area of sport.
Now the rest of the story, and the first key point: As we age, our muscles stay very strong even as Masters athletes…similar to a 20 year old’s muscles. However, our tendons age and stiffen. This combination of power and stiffness leads to an increased risk of injuries like torn ACLs and ruptured Achilles tendons, or crazy ones like a hamstring avulsion (separation from the bone) that can end our ability to do what we love. Fortunately, there are relatively easy solutions with a little extra attention that can prolong our careers and avoid these serious injuries.
Second key point: Stretching is critical. Warm muscles and tendons are part of the stretching process. Following surgery and recovery, I started spinning on a bike with little resistance, then moved on to PT in a sport specific clinic. Each session began with 15 minutes of sitting on a towel wrapped around a sack of special clay that had been heated – the heat was so intense after 5 minutes that I often needed to shift position or add a layer of towel to reduce the heat, but the result was a very warm thigh and glut muscle that were ready for warm-up and stretching. Stretching consisted of only about 10 minutes of specific actions, but the result of warm muscles, properly stretched, was an incredible feeling of looseness and power once effort or resistance was introduced.
Third key point: How do we replicate 15 minutes of heat on a muscle and 10 minutes of stretching followed by a warm-up period before starting training or a race? I wanted that “loose, relaxed” feeling from the heat and stretch and discovered a way that is likely available to many of us – heated car seats. The PT told me that one of the biggest instances of hamstring, Achilles, and ACL injuries results from those older athletes who sit all day in an office setting, jump in a car (more sitting), followed by arrival at a training ride or race where we jump immediately on the bike, skis, or run without any proper warm-up or stretching. Year round, if your vehicle is equipped with heated seats, I strongly recommend that you turn them on and sit on the heat for 10-15 minutes, especially if you are an older or “tighter” athlete. It sounds terrible, but even on a hot summer day, the heat on your hamstrings and leg muscles really doesn’t feel bad with a little wind or AC in the car. Upon arrival, a short stretching session followed by a brief spin on the bike or a walk before a run or ski, will significantly reduce the risk of an injury. This is a way to use a somewhat common feature on many cars to reduce injury. For those without seat heat, at least be aware that stretching and a slow warm-up before max effort can save you a lot of grief and a potentially career ending injury.
I have been blessed to be naturally flexible and stretched the morning before the injury AND was well warmed-up, but I did not apply any heat. Heat is an added layer of protection from injury, so use those seat heaters if you have them, not just after the race for the endomorphin laced drive home, but to assure you get that chance to drive home instead of to the emergency room. Please note that you can also purchase heat seaters that plug right into the car (cigarette lighter/adapter) and it just might be a great $30 to spend. Stay warm, stretch, and stay injury free. Happy riding, skiing, running….