12 tips to prep you for spring activity

Try these pro moves to spare you from sore muscles, injuries as the weather heats up.

12 tips to prep you for spring activity
Warm up your body for better weather activities. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Warmer weather has a way of getting us off the couch and into more active pastimes—biking, yard work, tennis and spring cleaning.

If you’re feeling the urge to get up and get active, take a minute to prepare yourself with these tips from Jason Lazor, DO, a specialist in sports medicine and musculoskeletal injuries with the Spectrum Health Medical Group Sports Medicine.

What you learn here may help you steer clear of tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, shoulder injuries and other forms of tendonitis, which can all result from overuse.

“In the springtime, I see a lot of overuse injuries,” Dr. Lazor said. “People have deconditioned a little bit over the winter, and they jump out expecting to go and perform their sport or activity at the level they were pre-winter.”

So before you get up and go, hit pause and read an orthopedic pro’s suggestions for easing your body into spring and summer.

Dr. Lazor’s Top 12 Tips:

1. Set realistic expectations.

“If you have been more sedentary over the winter, then slowly evolve back into your sport,” Dr. Lazor said. Pushing your muscles too hard too fast isn’t worth the risk of injury.

This is especially true for those of us who have sequestered ourselves within our homes during the pandemic, binge-watching Netflix or Hulu shows.

2. Stretch and warm up.

Do this before any physical activity, whether it’s golfing or working around the house. Stretching your joints for five minutes can do a lot to prevent acute muscle or tendon injuries.

For athletes, Dr. Lazor recommends warming up with sport-specific exercises and drills rather than just, say, jogging to get the blood flowing. But he cautions against “bouncy stretching.” Keep movements slow and controlled.

3. Take a break.

Yes, take a breather when you feel muscle tightness setting in. Then do some more light stretching to loosen up before resuming the activity.

4. Stay hydrated.

This is good advice anytime, but especially when you’re engaged in sports. Dehydrated muscles and tendons are less flexible and less resilient, Dr. Lazor said.

So if you’re a coffee drinker, reduce your risk of muscle strain by drinking more water than coffee. And avoid excessive alcohol, another cause of dehydration.

5. Avoid smoking.

In addition to its other downsides, nicotine impairs the healing process for tendons and muscles.

6. Vary your activities.

To prevent muscle imbalance, you should mix it up. The shoulder, for example, has more than 20 muscles attached to it.

If you keep repeating the same overhead motion, “certain muscles will get overworked and others will decondition,” Dr. Lazor said. That throws off the shoulder’s balance, resulting in tendon damage.

Resistance training is a good way to prevent overuse injuries because it makes the muscles and tendons more resilient. Dr. Lazor emphasizes the essential part of resistance training—the slow, controlled downward motion of a biceps curl, for example, which lengthens the muscle and protects it from injury.

7. Use proper form.

When lifting and carrying heavy items, make sure your body mechanics are correct. Keep an upright position to help protect your back. And if you’re doing overhead work, use a ladder or step stool to put the work at eye level and reduce stress on the shoulders.

8. Eat well.

If you play endurance sports such as tennis, eat well so your muscles have the nutrients needed to stay healthy and heal if they become strained.

Plus, eating well makes you feel better. “If you eat junk, you are going to feel like junk,” Dr. Lazor said.

9. Use proper sports equipment and footwear.

Avoid injury by wearing shoes meant to support your particular foot anatomy.

Also, make sure to have the equipment that fits your body and experience level. For example, tennis players should use a racquet that matches your size and skill level.

10. Practice cross-training.

Keep your muscles in balance with variety. Don’t spend all of your time on one sport, Dr. Lazor said.

“You want to incorporate other sports—such as biking and running—because that works the muscles differently. It gives some of those muscles that are getting overused a break and works them in different ways.”

11. Build your core.

This means focusing on your abdomen, back, glutes and pelvis—because many sports injuries are related to deficits in core strength.

“I like planks for core work,” said Dr. Lazor. “When you do planks, whether it’s prone planks or side planks, you have to focus on utilizing your core—squeezing your butt cheeks together and, for both males and females, using the Kegel muscles.”

12. Stretch again at the end.

“I’m a big fan of doing your deep stretching after your activity,” Dr. Lazor said.

Again, using tennis as an example, this means stretching the shoulder, pectoral and back muscles, as well as the hamstrings and quads. Stretching after a workout, whether around the house or on the courts, will help your muscles rebound faster.

Preventing spring and summertime strains and muscle pains isn’t hard. It just takes a little patience, insight and common sense.

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‘They acted so fast’

A retired Michigan grocer is alive today thanks to his wife's quick reaction and a speedy response from an expert stroke team.

‘They acted so fast’

Bob Kingma, 69, grew up surrounded by healthy foods at his family’s business, Kingma’s Market, on the southeast side of Grand Rapids.

Leafy greens, root vegetables, strawberries, blueberries and more were his constant companions.

Later, when he took over the business, eventually moving it to Plainfield Avenue on the northeast side of the city, his health remained a priority.

He walked. He biked. He didn’t shy away from manual labor.

In June 2019, he and his wife, Kae, completed a two-and-a-half-week journey around Israel.

“We went all over and hiked around,” he said. “We went all over the country.”

A few days after returning home, life took a haunting turn.

Kingma and Kae went out to eat with another couple to celebrate Kae’s birthday.

“I was feeling well,” he said. “I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night because I had to use the bathroom. When I got into the bathroom, the wall seemed to shift back and forth sideways. I’ve never had anything like that. It just got worse.”

He sat down on the toilet seat. He couldn’t focus his eyes. He couldn’t cry out for help. His body swayed.

Thankfully, the toilet behind him and walls on both sides helped him stabilize, keeping him from crashing to the floor.

Kingma attempted to utter his wife’s name, a single consonant. He failed.

“I couldn’t talk,” he said. “Things were not well. I remember focusing and trying to get out, ‘K.’ I made a guttural tone. She came in. I couldn’t stand. She went downstairs to get a cane. That didn’t help.

“She said my mouth was sagging and I was drooling,” he remembers. “I could hardly focus. I was swaying back and forth. She said, ‘I think you’re having a stroke.’”

Kae dialed 911 and explained her husband’s condition to the dispatcher, providing critical information that indicated he might be having a stroke.

The dispatcher instructed her to leave the front door unlocked.

Within minutes, an ambulance arrived.

“I can visually picture everything that night,” Kingma said. “There were two gals in the back of the ambulance. I remember the ride to the hospital in the middle of the night. The streets were empty. My mind was fully aware of what was going on, but I couldn’t sit, stand, walk or talk. My head was slumped down.”

Even though he could barely move, his mind moved to a frightening future.

Would he ever walk again? Talk again? Would he ever again embrace Kae and their children and grandchildren?

“There was terror of living like this for the rest of my life,” he said. “It was kind of a broken prayer I couldn’t even mouth.”

‘I could feel him threading’

At Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, the health team wheeled Kingma into an operation room.

“There were people in gowns waiting,” he said. “They were all gloved up. It was the stroke team. They lifted me onto the observation table and started hooking me up to all kinds of stuff.”

Kae arrived just as the stroke team finished a CT scan.

They identified the problem—a left vertebral artery occlusion.

Spectrum Health neurosurgeon Paul Mazaris, MD, prepared for the procedure. He would insert a catheter through an artery near Kingma’s groin to reach the clot at the back of his neck.

“We went in with a small catheter, which is a long skinny tube, and opened up the vertebral artery with a small balloon on the end of the catheter,” Dr. Mazaris said. “This restored blood flow to his brain that was starving for oxygen.”

Kingma said he could feel the catheter being threaded through his body.

“One of my arteries in the back of my neck wasn’t functioning and the other was pretty thin,” Kingma said. “I could feel him threading. All of a sudden, control of my fingers returned and I could start talking again. They were asking all kinds of questions and I was answering quickly.”

The turnaround stunned everyone, including Kingma.

“Everything returned—my fingers, voice, body commands,” he said. “I could move my fingers and toes. They couldn’t believe it. It felt good to have it back.”

Kae remembers the feeling of relief that swelled over her, like a calming wave.

“The doctor came back and said, ‘He’s very fortunate, we got it,’” she said. “He seemed totally fine. There was no permanent damage at all. I don’t notice any difference in him compared to before the stroke.”

Kingma credits the stroke team’s quick response with saving his life.

“They acted so fast,” he said.

Still, more work remained.

Kingma would need to undergo another procedure to help prevent blockages from returning.

‘Very fortunate’

The following week, surgeons replaced Kingma’s neck arteries with more viable arteries from another part of his body. This provided his brain a thicker and more assured blood supply.

“I asked how soon I could get back to hiking and biking,” Kingma said.

The doctor suggested he take it easy for a week.

So he did.

He felt a bit tired that summer, but otherwise he had no limitations.

And he’s since taken on life’s other adventures.

“I’ve been hiking up and down small mountains in the wilderness and heat,” he said. “Kae and I do a lot of biking. The prompt treatment saved my brain. I have no residual effects whatsoever. Nothing.”

He sold Kingma Market about six years ago. He now spends some of his time as an associate chaplain at the Kent County Jail.

It’s all been a wild ride, Kae said.

“It was kind of crazy,” she said.

She and her husband count their blessings—their children, grandchildren, travel adventures. Good health.

They’re grateful for the speedy response from health teams that day.

“I kept thinking if this had happened when I wasn’t home, he could have died,” Kae said. “He got to the hospital right away and they were right on top of it. They were ready and waiting for him before he got there and they knew exactly what to do.

“That’s what saved him. We were very fortunate.”

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