- Health and Nutrition
Competing with Osteoporosis
Tips for preventing injuries
2005 and 2006 data released by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey studied American men and women 50 and older. The study concluded that that .8 million men and 4.5 million women have osteoporosis of the hip. The World Health Organization concluded that 9 percent of adults in this age bracket had osteoporosis of the femur (thigh bone), neck, or lumbar spine. In addition, many people with low bone density remain undiagnosed.
Early stages of age-related bone loss are defined as osteopenia. With the appropriate intervention, people diagnosed with this condition can often pursue normal activities and prevent the condition from advancing.
Osteoporosis is severely impaired bone strength resulting in skeletal fragility. This stage of compromised bone health increases the risk of potentially life-threatening bone fractures from falls. Statistics released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicate that one in five women who break a hip will die within a year. In the most severe cases of osteoporosis, bones are so brittle, even a sneeze can break a rib.
Masters swimmers can reduce osteoporosis risk by complementing swim workouts with weight-bearing activities, such as brisk walking and weight training. Individuals already diagnosed with osteoporosis should use caution at the pool to avoid impact and fall-related injuries.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that people with compromised bone health avoid forward bending from the waist and twisting the spine to the point of strain. Diving off the blocks is one example of a potentially hazardous forward flexion activity.
For this reason, swimmers with osteoporosis are often advised to start races in the water, rather than from a dive. Diving off the blocks also carries a heavy fall risk and even the impact striking the water can be injurious.
Competitive swimmers also risk collisions in the pool or on land. Swimmers can reduce pool injuries by selecting less crowded lanes for warm-up or swimming in lanes designated for older swimmers. Older swimmers may also opt to warm up at a nearby health club or YMCA before travelling to the meet site. On deck, swimmers should avoid the most congested areas or, if unsteady on their feet, seek assistance from teammates to reach the blocks or pass through crowded areas.
Doug Springer, the head coach of SaddleBrooke Masters in northwest Tucson, has two swimmers older than 90 who compete. “As a swim team with an average age of 70 plus, protecting our bodies and doing the best with what we have is important.” Springer encourages swimmers with medical conditions, including osteoporosis, to work within their capabilities so they can enjoy the sport they love for years to come.