COVID pandemic leads to more outdoor activity and orthopedic injuries

The pandemic has led to an increased frequency in outdoor activities such as biking, walking and running, and the injuries that accompany them.

If you’ve been in the market to purchase a bicycle recently, you may have noticed the selection is quite scarce. That’s because the COVID pandemic has not only caused a shortage of toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, but it is also making bikes hard to find in different areas of the country.

As many of us look for ways to fill more free time, we have seen an increased frequency in outdoor activities such as biking, walking and running.

Paul Cowan, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating patients with knee and shoulder injuries at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. During the early months of the pandemic, Dr. Cowan witnessed a significant decrease in the number of patients seeking care for common exercise-related injuries, but that has now changed.

“With the reopening of businesses and new precautions in place, there has been an uptick in patients presenting with common injuries from activities such as walking, running, and biking,” said Dr. Cowan. “Many of these injuries occurred early during the shut-down and patients were somewhat hesitant to seek medical attention due to perceived risk of virus transmission in the healthcare setting.”

Quarantine has been an ideal time to get outdoors, be more active or try something new. For example, Dr. Cowan has seen experienced and novice runners who have increased their mileage recently, which has led to complaints of conditions of IT band syndrome and bursitis.

“Far and away, the most common injuries from increased physical activity during these times of quarantine have been overuse injuries of the upper and lower extremities and spine,” said Dr. Cowan. “These include tendinitis, muscle strain, tendon/ligament injury and inflammation.”

The good news is that most injuries related to overuse can be treated with RICE therapy: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Physical therapy and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can also be very helpful.

Unfortunately, some injuries such as ligament tears of the knee and shoulder and broken bones can be more serious and require surgery. Dr. Cowan is seeing patients with these urgent injuries more frequently, especially those who have returned to cycling and mountain biking.

The fact that the pandemic has prompted many of us to become more active is a good thing, so how can we best prevent injuries while continuing to stay active?

“It has been said for decades, but probably longer, that a diligent warm up and post-exercise stretching routine is vital for adequate recovery of bone, joints and muscles,” said Dr. Cowan. “It has also been found to be very beneficial to cross-train in multiple activities to not stress the same joints and muscle groups every day.”

For those patients who have already endured injuries requiring surgery, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission provides the services of orthopedic nurse navigators. Whether a patient is preparing for surgical procedures such as joint replacement, joint resurfacing and spine surgery or needing supportive services like fracture care and physical therapy, nurse navigators work hand-in-hand with physicians to guide patients through their orthopedic journey and help them get back to enjoying healthy, active lives.

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