Are Sports Doctors Sexist?

When I started to write about sports injuries, I envisioned my reader as someone like me: a former college athlete, middle-aged and, well, male. But women immediately started telling me how much they care about the subject. A bookstore owner talked about injuries on her softball team. A literary agent told me upper body training helped her survive a 50-kilometer run. And so on.

The experience reminded me how  easy it is to fall into prejudices about who does sports — and who needs help with sports injuries. That thought came to mind again recently when the New Republic quoted Obama saying, “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.” The possibility that his daughters might want to play apparently never occurred to him.

Jill Caryl Weiner
Jill Caryl Weiner

No one I know has struggled with such attitudes more than my friend Jill Caryl Weiner, who seems to have played just about every sport you can name and has wounds to show for it. Even when she could still play football, she sometimes had trouble being taken seriously by her teammates. In the New York Times, she tells the poignant tale of pestering her quarterback to pass to her and then making a diving catch to win the game… only to tear ligaments in her shoulder.

It got worse from there. Continue reading Are Sports Doctors Sexist?

How We Can Stop Football Concussions

I used to love tackle football. Big for my age, I enjoyed the collision with other bodies. I never played on a team, just with a bunch of high school friends. We had no helmets or pads. We couldn’t hit each other too hard, or we’d get hurt ourselves, and we certainly never used our heads as weapons.

I wonder what would be the incidence of concussion now if that’s how people played competitive football. Studies in rugby have generally shown that helmets don’t prevent concussion in that sport.

Photo by the COD Newsroom.
Photo by the COD Newsroom.

The research on concussions is pretty mixed as it is. I covered an interesting study on this for Medscape and Healthline when I was in New Orleans in March for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual meeting. Gregory W. Stewart, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Tulane University School of Medicine told me high school football players he studied didn’t seem to be sustaining serious injuries.

Tracking 1,289 Louisiana high school football players from 1997 to 2000, he and his colleagues found that the more time the teenagers spent on the field, the better they did on tests of their mental abilities.

The finding contradicts earlier reports of brain damage in football players at all levels of the sport. “The concussive forces may not be quite as bad as we think,” he said. Continue reading How We Can Stop Football Concussions

Exercise in the Heat without Injury

Photo by Ian Robertson
Photo by Ian Robertson
Northern California is setting heat records this week, and hot weather is on its way to the rest of the country. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise, but be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Consider moving your workout to the evening or early morning. Rest and cool down if you start to feel uncomfortable. If you are working out in a hot place — or with someone else who is — be alert to these more serious signs from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Red Cross.

Heat Cramps:

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that result from overheating. They usually occur in the legs and abdomen.

Heat Exhaustion:

Continue reading Exercise in the Heat without Injury

This Blog Could Save Your Life

If you are sitting down while you’re reading this, please stand up. Now sit down again. And up.

If you could do that about every 10 minutes all day, you would probably live a longer life. But I know I couldn’t. It would be incredibly boring.

I would much rather get my exercise playing some sort of game. Most people have enjoyed sports at some point in their lives, but too many think they are too old. They’re afraid of injury, which is the point of this blog. So lots of people to whom I’ve described it said right away that they could see the need.

On the other hand, a few wise asses have told me they already know how to avoid sports injuries — by not doing sports.

My question for them, is “What will you do instead?” If the answer is “walking” or “gardening” or “exercise with Gloria and her six daughters”

Photo by Kevin Dooley
Photo by Kevin Dooley

or some other sort of non-sport physical exercise, I say, “Fine. Don’t read my blog.” But for those who refuse any exercise, I’d like to point out a couple of recent studies. Continue reading This Blog Could Save Your Life

Eight Rules for Biking to Work Without Injury

It’s Bike to Work Day or, depending on where you live, it will be soon. And yes, you, too, can ride to work safely if you follow this bit of advice.

1) Don’t ride too close to the curb.

Sounds a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Your plastic helmet may not seem like enough protection against the tons of steel that whiz past every few minutes. But consider: when you are walking in a crosswalk, you have even less protection. Even when you’re in a car on a freeway, a fellow driver can kill you in an instant by swerving into your lane.

In other words, the only thing that keeps you from getting hurt in traffic — on foot, on a bike, or in a car — is being seen by other motorists.

Take a look at this drawing from

The explanation:

You’re probably used to riding in the “A” line in the picture, very close to the curb, because you’re worried about being hit from behind. But take a look at the car. When that driver is looking down the road for traffic, he’s not looking in the bike lane or the area closest to the curb; he’s looking in the middle of the lane, for other cars. The farther left you are (such as in “B”), the more likely the driver will see you.

Intersections are where most bike accidents happen. If you are next to the curb, a motorist turning left may cut in front of you as well.

And there are other reasons for riding away from the curb, as I learned recently in an excellent class by Bike East Bay (formerly the East Bay Bicycle Coalition).

If you are riding close to a line of parked cars, and someone opens a door into the lane, you could go flying. Motorists rarely think to look for a cyclist before opening a door, so it happens a lot.

If you hug the curb, motorists are also more likely to try to pass you on the left while staying in the same lane. Cyclists don’t actually get hit very often this way, but it is a risk.

This doesn’t mean you should always ride right down the middle of a lane. If the road is wide enough, you may still be well advised to keep to the right. But in most cases, you are best off riding the length of a car door from the cars on your right — even if it forces you out of a painted bike lane.

Continue reading Eight Rules for Biking to Work Without Injury

How I Cured Runner’s Knee in 220,233 Steps

If you keep doing sports long enough, you discover your Achilles’ heel: the injury that keeps coming back no matter how long you rest, ice the pain and dose yourself with ibuprofen.

Finally, I think I’ve solved mine. And I want to help solve yours, too.

Runner’s knee (patellofemoral syndrome) first hit me when I was playing soccer in college. One game it was so bad I had to crawl off the field.

Taking a seven-year break from soccer helped my right knee, but when I started up again, so did the pain just below my left kneecap. Sometimes a change of shoes helped, but only for a while. A physical therapist prescribed exercises, but they didn’t make much difference.

Gradually, I gave up running. I rested all week for a weekend pickup soccer game. But as I got into my 40s, I had to cut back to two or three times a month, then twice a month and sometimes take a year off when things got really bad. Continue reading How I Cured Runner’s Knee in 220,233 Steps