, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 41-52
Date: 23 Oct 2012

Aging, Physical Activity and Sports Injuries

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Summary

Illness and aging both cause many structural and functional alterations in the human body, rendering elderly people liable to overloading of the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. It should, however, be kept in mind that immobilisation and inactivity have even more deleterious effects on structures and functions in the elderly than in younger adults. Most physically active elderly people are selected individuals with respect to their superior health and physical capacity compared with inactive persons of the same age, thus making it possible to further improve their physical capacity. They will, however, be affected by some of the drawbacks of physical overloading, mostly due to the diminished ability of aging body systems to adapt to high levels of loading. The safety margin of an exercise dose tends to decline with aging. Exertional injuries are common among the elderly, and are connected mostly with degenerative aging processes.

Acute injuries are common in those elderly people participating in sport activities which demand high coordination, reaction time, and balance capabilities, such as ball games, down-hill skiing, and gymnastics. Muscle has been reported to be the most commonly acutely injured tissue among active elderly athletes. The lower extremities are the most susceptible to injury. A large proportion of injuries (acute and exertional) are mild and can be treated by brief cessation of training and competition activities. Some of the injuries are, however, long term and cause disability not only during training and competition, but also in the normal activities of daily living.

It is important that these injuries are treated as soon as possible and in the most effective way, similarly to injuries suffered by younger people. In treating elderly people, it is most important to avoid the detrimental effects of immobilisation; this requires active treatment and rehabilitation with compensatory exercise therapy. The best ‘treatment’ for sports-related injuries is prevention. Good agility, technical skills, and cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness are important in injury prevention among the elderly. Appropriate training programmes, the use of safe and familiar equipment, careful warming up and cooling down, multiphasic training [including the training of neurophysiological functions (balance, coordination and reaction time)] and muscle strength are essential aspects of injury prevention.