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Q: How did you become fascinated with treating athletic injuries?

A: I was a child athlete, and I played many sports—so much so that I probably spent more time in my orthopedist’s office than in my pediatrician’s. In fact, my orthopedist turned out to be a great mentor, and I aspired to be like him. This career was a natural fit for me from the beginning.

Q: What patients do you typically treat?

As a sports medicine physician, I see numerous soft tissue injuries: damage to the cartilage or ligaments in the knee; shoulder dislocations; and injuries to the rotator cuff. Patients run the gamut from young athletes hurt on the field to 20-somethings who over-train. They also include weekend warriors who push themselves too hard at the company softball game as well as older people whose childhood injuries or lifetime of activity have caught up with them.

Q: What can athletes do to protect themselves from sports injuries?

A: One of biggest threats to children is single sports specialization. A ton of recent literature documents the downsides. Too much running can lead to ACL issues. Overhead sports—pitching in baseball, volleyball, swimming, etc.—can cause shoulder problems. If you look at successful elite athletes, very few were single sports participants. All excelled in many sports. Diversifying gives your body a chance to rest and recover. And be sure to get enough sleep.

You can restore stability to most knees after an ACL injury; fix most elbows after Tommy John surgery; and repair most shoulders after dislocation. However, our techniques are not perfect, and no surgery comes without risk of harm. To protect your sports career, aim to stay out of the orthopedist’s office and operating room!

Q: What’s your opinion on stretching/warming up? Does it matter? 

A: Evidence pretty clearly shows that stretching is not very good at preventing injuries. Static stretching–holding your toes, for instance– has no value. At worst, it can actually weaken the muscle group being stretched. If you’re a sprinter, a soccer player, or someone who needs to execute quick, precise maneuvers, stretching can diminish your ability to perform.

That said, research also shows that tailored warm ups help. For instance, soccer players who follow good warm up protocols dramatically minimize ACL and hamstring injuries. Sports-specific warm ups get the muscles moving; static stretching is not so useful.

The research goes in many directions. There’s no one definitive paper or guideline about how to minimize exercise-related injuries. Elastic band work, weightlifting, sprinting and hill work, squats and long runs—they all have their place. They work different parts of different muscles at different rates. There is no one recipe for success!

Howard Luks, MD
Westchester Medical Center
19 Bradhurst Avenue, Suite 1300N
Hawthorne, NY 10532

Learn more about Dr. Luks

Howard Luks, MD
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