The Common Cold: When Athletes Should & Should Not Train

By Tara Hackney for Athletico Physical Therapy

It is estimated that the average adult has between 1 and 6 colds each year, but athletes who engage in heavy training and competition may suffer more frequent colds.

A cold can present with varying symptoms and severity, including sore throat, coughing, sneezing, fatigue and a fever among other things. With the winter months and flu season upon us, let’s take a closer look at exercising with a common cold.

Risk factors for Catching a Cold
There is research to support that vigorous exercise can increase your risk and incidence of upper respiratory infections. This evidence suggests that heavy acute or chronic exercise is related to an increased incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes.6 When an athlete does become ill, their training and performance are limited. Many of these research studies were performed in runners, and the data shows that runners who were training higher mileages per week or per year showed increased risk of infections.

However, moderate exercise may stimulate the immune system in contrast to intense exercise, which may decrease immune function. This suggests that exercise in moderate amounts is beneficial for the body and the immune system but vigorous and intense training may need to be altered to decrease incidence of illness.

When to Train
If symptoms are “above the neck,” such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, or sore throat with no other body symptoms, then the athlete can proceed cautiously through a workout at half speed. If their congestion clears within a few minutes of starting exercise, the intensity can gradually be increased.

When Not to Train
If an athlete has “below the neck” symptoms, including fever, aching muscles, coughing, vomiting or diarrhea, the athlete should not train. Athletes who feel they may be getting ill should reduce their training schedule for 1 or 2 days. Exercising during an incubation phase of an infection may worsen an illness. Symptom severity and duration of illness may be increased if one is exercising during an illness. Training can resume depending on the type of infection beginning at moderate levels and gradual returning to max, which can range between 3-5 days for up to 3 weeks.

When to Play
Returning to training and returning to play or competition are different. Return to competition criteria is stricter than return to training or practice. Return to play is contingent on a clear physical exam. Ideally, the athlete has returned to training at moderate levels and progressed back to their maximum level prior to competition.

Ways to reduce risk of illness:
• Eat a balanced diet
• Keep stress to a minimum
• Avoid overtraining
• Avoid fatigue
• Obtain adequate sleep
• Space intense workouts and competitive events as far apart as possible
• Wash your hands
• Do not share water bottles

If you do end up getting a cold this winter, use these tips as guidance on whether you should keep training or should take some time off. When in doubt, rest and recover until you are feeling better.

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Sleep…Beyond Counting Sheep

By Valerie Odea for Athletico Physical Therapy

There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep…and awakening to the promise of a new day! But these days, getting a good night’s sleep seems to be more elusive than ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three sleep beyond counting sheepAmericans routinely do not get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can contribute to health issues such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and impaired memory. Therefore, lack of sleep is a true public health crisis. The Rand Corporation published a study reporting over $400 billion loss to US companies annually due to employees’ lack of sleep. So why is our nation sleep-deprived and what can we do to be better sleepers?

Falling asleep should be one of the easiest tasks for us to accomplish, right? Yet many of us cannot do it well, nor on a consistent basis. How can we improve “sleep hygiene,” or healthy sleep habits? Happily, most of the practices that promote sound sleep are under our control! Here’s what you need to know:

A Consistent Schedule Matters: Humans have a circadian rhythm, which means we follow a day/night cycle of approximately 24 hours. That being said, the more consistently we manage our sleep/wake cycles, the better. Try to get to bed at the same time most evenings and awaken at approximately the same time each morning. Resist the temptation to stay up very late or sleep in, even on weekends or days off. By staying consistent with your cycle, your body will have an established routine.

Age Makes a Difference: Aging presents issues with regard to sleep, with many people waking up more frequently and have a harder time getting back to sleep as they get older. This could be due to a variety of reasons, including less time spent in a deep sleep, the need to urinate during the night, anxiety, or discomfort from pain or chronic illness.

Avoid Substances and Meals that can Interrupt Your Sleep: Be judicious about using substances such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. These chemicals can stay in our systems for up to 14 hours and disturb sleep. On that note, a large, heavy meal can be difficult to digest close to bedtime and interfere with sleep.

Stress Plays a Role: Stress…who doesn’t have it? A stressful day flows into the evening and you can’t relax. Besides your brain being preoccupied, stress cause the body to release the stress hormone cortisol which promotes increased alertness.

Medical Conditions can Make an Impact: A variety of medical issues can also keep you from sleeping well. More than just annoying snoring, sleep apnea is a dangerous condition where you can have decreased breathing, changes in vital signs and startle yourself into wakefulness. Oftentimes Restless Leg Syndrome may accompany sleep apnea. If you or your partner snore, have a sleep study performed by a specialist and follow the recommended treatment. Chronic insomnia interferes with your body’s restorative sleep and can have deleterious health effects on the brain and body as well.

So, how can you overcome these issues and catch your zzzzzzzzzz?sleep beyond counting sheep

Try to Respect Your Circadian Rhythm:Establish a consistent bedtime and wake up time and stick to it. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible with room darkening shades, blinds or use a sleep mask. Avoid lights from electronics in the bedroom. Keep your bedroom cool with the use of a fan, or by opening a window and turning down the furnace. Foam earplugs can reduce noises surprisingly well. Some swear by white noise machines available at most department or electronics stores. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a comfortable, supportive mattress, pillows and blankets. Make a rule that you won’t eat, watch TV or pull out your phone/laptop to do work in bed.

Limit Fluids After Dinner as much as Possible: Have that last coffee at lunch or switch to an evening decaf. Some feel that a “night cap” alcoholic drink will relax them for sleep. Initially, alcohol will make one feel sleepy, but then it will actually disturb your sleep.

Have a Bedtime Ritual (like when you were a child): I often share this information with my patients who are just home from the hospital, may have pain, are off their routine, have stress and concerns. Take a warm bath or shower if possible, perform some relaxation techniques such as tensing and relaxing muscles, or do some deep breathing. Try reading for a short time. Enjoy a small glass of milk and a light carbohydrate snack. A very effective technique I employ is to keep a pad of paper and a pen on my nightstand. I journal about ideas, concerns and worries. Then I put them aside. I have taken everything off my mind and put it down on paper where I know it will be waiting for me in the morning.

Exercise: With regard to exercise and fitness, those who have a regular fitness routine fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. However, try to exercise earlier in the day or at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.

Napping: Short “cat naps” of 20-30 minutes are fine if needed. They can refresh you. Anything longer can make you feel groggy and interfere with your nighttime sleep.

Sweet Dreams!

These days there are high tech mattresses, gadgets, apps, fancy pillows that monitor sleep cycles, sensors and sleep tracking watches available to help you get to sleep and measure your sleep performance. None of these devices come cheap. I would argue that for most people, following the ideas discussed above and taking a do-it-yourself approach to improving your sleep works best. Of course, if sleep problems persist, see your health care provider for help.

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Spin Workouts: Learn the Benefits and Limitations

By Tara Hackney for Athletico Physical Therapy

Spin Workouts: Learn the Benefits and Limitations Spin cycle studios seem to be on every other corner these days. This popular workout involves a stationary bike, fast and loud music, and an upbeat and motivating instructor. The studio usually has low lighting, a video screen with goals and maybe some fun disco lights. Let’s take a closer look at this workout to see the benefits and limitations.

Benefits of a Spin Workout:

  1. Spin workouts are non-impact, which is appealing for those that wish to get a workout without a lot of pressure placed on the joints. The act of cycling also allows for good joint range of motion. This helps with joint flexibility without the pounding associated with running. A properly set up bicycle will have minimal pressure placed on the joints. This is good for the hips, knees and ankles.
  1. Spin classes burn a lot of calories in a short period of time. This can be beneficial for those wishing to lose weight. A sensible diet combined with spin classes may help you shed unwanted pounds. Spin class is also an excellent cardiovascular workout.
  1. Spin class works a variety of muscles in the lower body. The hips, knees, calves and ankles all get a great workout during spin class. If you have ever taken a class, you know that your legs can feel like “jello” afterward, which indicates muscle fatigue in the lower body.
  1. All ages can benefit from a spin workout. Intensity of the workout can be altered to each individual via the bike, which means that all ages and skill levels can participate in a spin class.

Limitations of a Spin Workout:

  1. There may be some intimidation associated with spin class. The room is dark, the class may be very full and it could feel like everyone else knows exactly what is going on. However, generally classes are made up of blended genders and all fitness levels. The instructor or employees can also easily help you set up a bike your first few sessions.
  1. There is little use of the upper body during a spin class. Upper body strength training may need to be added to your routine on days you do not attend a spin class to address these areas.
  1. Many new participants to spin class complain of a sore butt after the first few classes. Gel seats or padded bike shorts can be purchased to help offset this complaint.

A Well-Rounded Routine

Although spin class is a great workout for cardiovascular health and lower body strengthening, there are some limitations. Stretching is recommended such as a yoga class, or incorporation of balance and strength skills for a well-rounded routine in addition to a spin workout regimen. Should an injury occur during workout, schedule an appointment at a nearby Athletico location so we can help you heal.

If you suspect an injury from a workout, find your closest Athletico for a complimentary injury screen.

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Eat, Sleep, Dance, Repeat: The Importance of Sleep for Dancers

importance of sleep for dancersBy Alyssa Hartley for Athletico Physical Therapy

As summer comes to an end, Fall brings a season of routine. This is especially true of dancers who are back to academia on top of rehearsal. Professional dancers, for example, will begin preparing their upcoming repertoire for programs like Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle and Hubbard Street Dance Company’s Fall Series.

While the days are getting shorter, rehearsals are getting longer and cutting into valuable time meant for counting sheep. The CDC recommends 8-10 hours of sleep for teens 13-18 years old, and 7 or more hours per night for adults 18-60 years old. This can be difficult to achieve for dancers, whose rehearsals consist of specialized physical activity of high volume, frequency and intensity throughout the week. Dancers also don’t usually have an off-season, which can contribute to increased incidence of altered sleep-wake rhythms, illness and musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, studies show:

Rarely Sleeping Beauty

In Germany, there was a small study of 24 classical ballet dancers and their sleep quality prior to a ballet premiere. The total time spent asleep and ratio of time asleep vs. awake in bed was low in the ballet dancers compared to age-matched athletes. Over the course of 67 days prior to the show’s premiere, there was an even greater exacerbation in these sleep factors. This was true while the amount of time spent in ballet class and rehearsal per day did not change. Now, imagine this same degradation in sleep over the course of multiple shows throughout the year. That adds up to be a lot of missed shut-eye for dancers!

Wide Awake

There have been hundreds of studies on athletes and disturbed sleep. Athletes that participate at the Olympic, international, national and professional level, such as professional dancers, are considered “elite”. A systematic review of the literature of sleep quality in elite sports shows that elite athletes generally show high levels of insomnia symptoms (inability to initiate and maintain sleep). Pre-sleep arousal (more brain activity) and sleep restriction (not having the time to sleep long enough) were the most prevalent issues. Thus, lack of sleep can actually exacerbate insomnia, creating a vicious cycle.

Benefits of Sleep for Dancers

The processes that occur during sleep have been widely studied, and the benefits are far-reaching for all humans, but certainly for athletes. Sleep increases the secretion of growth hormone, which is necessary for dancers to grow and get stronger. Memory consolidation and motor-sequencing occurs during sleep, which is necessary for dancers when learning new choreography or technique. Therefore long-term to even short-lived disturbances in sleep can cause a dancer to perform worse mentally and physically, possibly affecting his or her contracts professionally.

Sleep is an essential part of mental and physical recovery. Many dancers, from recreational to professional, have challenging classes and rehearsals on back to back days without enough time for recovery. If an athlete does not have enough recovery between high-intensity workouts or rehearsals, successive workouts or classes are done at a less than optimal physiological condition. If training stress is too high, and there is not enough adequate recovery, such as prior to a competition or performance, “overtraining” can occur.

Over time, this pattern results in a plateau of performance and possible injury. A meta-analysis shows that dancer injury is extremely prevalent, with ankle, foot, lumbar and cervical spine injuries being the most frequently injured. One small study even found highest illness prevalence after six weeks of an overload training regimen in athletes. No dancer wants to be injured or sick before a performance, indicating that appropriate recovery – and most notably sleep – is imperative for excelling on stage.

Tips to Catch Some Zzz’s:

  • Make sure you are in a cool, dark environment
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and drug use
  • Eliminate screen time prior to bed
  • Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • If possible, consider a “post-lunch” nap for around 20 minutes for greater energy, but not within 4 hours of bed

Adequate sleep can help prevent injuries and improve daily functions, but it is still important for dancers to pay attention to their bodies. Should any unusual pain or discomfort occur during or after rehearsal, make sure to begin the healing process as soon as possible by scheduling a complimentary injury screen at your nearest Athletico location.

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