Ask around, and you’ll find that most people devote at least one New Year’s resolution to getting fit in the coming year. They’ll shout from the rooftops that this is the year that they will get into shape, tone up, master a new sport and run a marathon.
But before you buy a twelve-month package of muay thai classes, heed Dr Low’s words of warning. He says the one thing that most of us, fuelled by holiday guilt and unwavering optimism, don’t want to hear. He cautions us to take it slow.
“Don’t attempt to do too much, too soon. This is to blame for most of the injuries that come through my door. I should get it tattooed somewhere,” he laughs.
Making Changes Too Quickly
The first thing that Dr Low asks new patients is “What have you changed?” This could be starting a new sport, changing your technique or even purchasing new shoes. A rapid increase in frequency and intensity will also land you a spot on the doctor’s table.
A classic example is when runners decide to tweak their running style while preparing for a marathon.
“This is a big fad right now. Runners read in a magazine that a forefoot landing style will improve their performance. So they immediately make the adjustment. The result is often pain in the calf muscle and Achilles tendon.”
Dr Low says that the personality traits of sports enthusiasts also get them into trouble.
“Many go in hardcore. They’re so enthusiastic, and they don’t realise that they are placing all sorts of different stresses on their bodies.”
This means that even experienced runners should ease into hill work, and gym-goers shouldn’t jump straight into muay thai boxing.
“Change is good, but it must be progressive. Take small steps. Start humbly and put your ego away. And make sure you have sufficient recovery time between sessions.”
You may want to dive headfirst into the next big exercise trend, but adaption is the key to remaining injury-free. Take it easy in your first Zumba class, and don’t try out your new shoe gloves with a 10K test run. And what about the latest craze in barefoot running?
“I’m not a proponent of it for regular running. Short distance barefoot running can build foot and lower leg strength. But we are not a barefoot community, so it’s not the best idea for most people.”
Dr Low notes an interesting tendency, especially among expats, to overdo weekend exercise to make up for missed sessions during the week.
“Due to long work hours or business travel, people who can’t exercise during the week try to stack it up on the weekends. They will jump from riding 70km to doing 120km with a group that has been training progressively. These people are usually driven by guilt over not exercising, so they really push it on the weekends to make up for lost time. In the end, they wind up injuring themselves.”
Not Seeking Help
Dr Low asks me if I know the biggest fear that exercise fanatics have about going to the doctor.
“A recommendation for surgery?” I speculate.
“No. People are afraid that the doctor will tell them to stop participating in their sport.”
Dr Low never asks patients to completely stop exercising. “Instead, I’ll ask them when their next event is and what their goals are. Part of the approach to sports medicine is to think with the athlete. People can continue being active, but it’s important that they understand that we may need to alter exercises for a while to buy time for the body to heal.”
Recovery typically starts with a round of anti-inflammatories, followed by stretching exercises and a period of “relative rest”, which may mean stopping the aggravating activity for a short period of time and substituting other forms of exercise. For a runner, this may take the form of a one-week break, limited speed and hill work and a return to your old shoes and running style until the pain is gone.
“I want patients to feel that they can trust me. That is why I need to understand their exercise goals. I pray every day before I come into work to be able to provide two things to my patients – healing and hope.”
He points to a photograph of himself that was snapped at the tail end of crushing tee-off. A lifelong athlete, Dr Low says that many of his patients are comforted to know that he participates in the same sports that they do. As such, he also knows the anguish of suffering from sports-related injuries, though most occurred in his younger days.
The cause of his injuries? “I was doing too much, too soon.”
Pacific Healthcare Specialist Centre
290 Orchard Road, #19-01 Paragon
Call 6883 6957