Limping into work on a Monday morning probably makes you feel like a cliche. At least you’re not alone. Most people are not weekend warriors. Still, far more people get injured on Saturday and Sunday than during the rest of the week. Using the Alberta Trauma Registry, one study looked at severely injured patients over a 14-year period. Some 45% were admitted during the five-day work week. Over the two-day weekend? Nearly 55% of the admissions.
At least you did something. In the United States, 42% of adults are obese. One reason is we just aren’t exercising enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends healthy adults strive for just over an hour of intense activity like running every week. Equally beneficial is spending two-and-a-half hours walking or doing similar moderate activity. Those aren’t daily guidelines. The CDC is asking us to devote less than three hours a week to some sort of exercise. While that bar may seem low, only 20% of adults even reach it.
Like much of our body, this tendon is less elastic as we get older. Middle-aged athletes often tear their achilles tendon. If you roll your foot outward when you walk or run, you increase your risk of achilles tendon damage. If your leg muscles are tight, this tendon often is the first to go. This injury can typically be prevented with good stretching or warmup practices prior to your workout or run as well as afterward. Unfortunately, even your foot’s arch shape can increase your risk.
Pretty much everyone has had this experience. Landing after a lay-up, backing up to return a backhand, or cutting a corner in a park can affect your ankle. Instead of victory, you’re rewarded with a shooting pain. A moment later, you can barely stand. Yep, you’ve sprained your ankle –– easily one of the most common sports injuries. This happens when you stretch or tear ligaments surrounding your ankle. Oftentimes, people who have experienced a sprained ankle will try to get back on the court or back into their activity too soon, causing a recurrent pattern of repeated injury to the ligaments around the ankle which can have lasting detrimental effects. It is important after even a seemingly simple ankle sprain to take the time for treatment. Most commonly this involves a period of rest followed by specific ankle strengthening exercises commonly performed with bands to increase the strength of the muscles and tendons around the ankle so they can support the ligaments as they heal and prevent recurrence.
ACL tear (knee)
Sometimes called the “weakest link,” ACL tears sideline both pro players and amateur athletes. The old song about the thigh bone connecting to the knee bone connecting to the shinbone left out the role played by the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL. These cords help keep your knee in place. Stop on a dime or get accidentally tackled during a touch football game, and the ACL might pay the price. Technically a sprain, many ACL injuries unfortunately are complete tears. This means the ligament is ripped in half, rendering the knee joint unstable. This usually requires surgery and intense rehabilitation. Besides an inability to put any weight on your knee this is often accompanied by a distinctive “popping” sound.
Another knee injury is patellofemoral syndrome. Sometimes called “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee,” it is distinguished from other knee injuries by the pain’s location. Patellofemoral syndrome is confined to either the front of the knee or the immediate area around the kneecap. This problem may also be called “anterior knee pain,” or more accurately “chondromalacia patellae.” Whatever you decide to call it, the problem is with the articulation of the knee cap with the underlying femur bone. Typically a formal exercise program focused on quadriceps strengthening helps to improve the tracking of the patella in the groove during activity. You’ll really know if you have this when you continue your weekend workout by climbing the stairs at your office on Monday.
Lower leg injuries are, not surprisingly, more common among runners. While running is a great way to exercise, if you’ve gained weight since high school track you are putting more stress on your knees and ankles. Shin splints are responsible for shooting or throbbing pain along the front of the shin. They are also among the most benign of weekend warrior injuries and easily treated at home.
Often the tightest muscle in our legs (if not our whole body), the hamstring is easily strained. Running along the back of our thigh, these muscles are often pulled during martial arts, tennis, and just about any activity requiring our legs. Unless you’re doing handstands, your hamstrings are involved. It’s tough to rest them, because even when sitting down at work your hamstrings will be feeling the strain. Although taking adequate time to heal is important with any injury, the hamstrings will almost certainly need a longer time to recover than anything else not requiring surgery. Pull a hamstring on a Saturday and there’s a fair chance it will affect your game a week later.
Easily strained during softball or basketball, a groin pull has all the hallmarks of other common weekend warrior injuries. Unfortunately, while this injury is no laughing matter, chances are at least one of your acquaintances will ask if anyone else was involved. Located on your inner thigh, the adductor muscles are prone to tears of the muscle-tendon unit. The sensation of a groin pull may also be an early sign of degeneration of the hip. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis involves pain deep in the groin with activity such as tying your shoes or walking longer distances.
Lower back pain
Few weekend warriors escape lower back pain. If you rarely stretch, sit at a desk for most of the week, or are carrying a bit extra around the middle, your back will suffer during intense activity. Usually a day or two of rest is all a sore back needs. If it is caused by a slipped or herniated disc, then a doctor’s visit is required. This however is usually accompanied by a radiation of pain down the buttocks and back of the thigh, even sometimes into the leg and foot.
Few sports are as tailor made for weekend warriors as tennis. Good matches often last for hours –– meaning you’re more likely to be on a court Saturday morning then Wednesday night. Although hitting a tennis ball over and over is an obvious culprit, other sports can irritate the elbow’s tendons. In fact, this injury is also called “golfer’s injury” –– another sport where hours-long play after a week of inactivity is common. Sometimes the tenderness won’t be noticeable until hours after the game’s conclusion.
Like the hamstrings, it’s hard to exercise without involving the shoulders. Even players in leg-centric sports like soccer or biking can hurt their shoulders. Besides strains and sprains, dislocations are fairly common. Shoulder injuries, similar to tennis elbow, are related to overuse.
The biggest problem with being a weekend warrior is that you’ll probably carry Saturday’s aches and pains well into your workweek. The good news is that you can treat most common injuries at home. The Mayo Clinic recommends the R.I.C.E. self-care model: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This works for ankles, shins, knees, and hamstrings. Get your weight off the injured area and rest. Put ice on your knee, ankle, or shoulder for 20 minutes every two hours while you are awake. For leg injuries, wrap the affected area in an elastic or compression bandage. Elevate your leg.
Lower back injuries respond well to heating pads. Anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter drugs like high-dose aspirin, naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are also beneficial. These drugs do have side effects, and if you are taking prescription drugs, consult your doctor.
A list of activities responsible for weekend warrior injuries is a long one. Everything from football, soccer, and tennis to biking and running can lead to injuries. If you spend Sundays mountain climbing or skateboarding, your risk is higher. Yet even weekend hikers get injured.
Cliches often become cliches because they are true. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure –– even if you prefer the metric system. Most weekend warrior injuries can be easily treated, but even the most benign can ruin your Monday. Regular exercise speeds recovery time. Muscle memory will help you avoid many of the common injuries experienced when working for the weekend means you don’t have time to work out.
Reserve the weekends for longer activities, but instead of doing nothing on weekdays, briefly exercise during the week. If you run six miles on Saturday, do a couple of two-milers before or after work. Play a set of tennis on a Tuesday. Stretch. And don’t forget to hydrate.
- The “weekend warrior”: fact or fiction for major trauma?
- Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017–2018
- One in five adults meet overall physical activity guideline
- The “weekend warrior” and risk of mortality
- The potential for high-intensity interval training to reduce cardiometabolic disease risk
- Mayo Clinic – ACL injury: diagnosis and treatment
Dr. Matthew Russo
Dr. Russo is a third-generation orthopedic surgeon in Scottsdale, AZ specializing in total hip and knee replacement surgery. He feels very grateful to have the opportunity to serve the Phoenix community as an orthopedic surgeon, just as his father and grandfather have done, for over 30 years.
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.