For Leia Rispoli, MD, a former college athlete, being active and physically fit is an integral part of who she is. She became a double-board-certified interventional pain management specialist and physiatrist after playing D1 soccer in college, so she’s uniquely in tune with the demands competitive sports can place on the athlete’s body at the peak of their game and in the many years that follow.
“It can be a humbling experience to accept – especially for those used to competing at the elite level – but getting older as an athlete doesn’t have to sentence you to the sidelines,” she wrote in a Life Over 50 article she authored.
Enjoying an appropriate exercise routine is especially beneficial as we age, Dr. Rispoli said. As long as the exercise isn't posing an excessive risk of injury, it can provide cardiovascular maintenance, good musculoskeletal and bone health, and aid in injury prevention, she told the National Council on Aging in a recent feature on exercising with age-related pain.
“I actually find that my most active patients tend to be in the least amount of pain or at least have the best ability to manage their pain,” Dr. Rispoli said.
Most age-related pain is caused by wear and tear, but by maintaining strong supportive muscles and maintaining a healthy weight, it can reduce stress on joints and bones, help preserve and protect what’s left, and can even slow degeneration progression that comes with getting older.
Another key component to reducing age-related pain or degeneration is to learn how to adapt, which will keep athletes competitive well into their golden years.
Dr. Rispoli works with a 76-year-old Olympic senior sprinter who’s able to continue competing in the sport he loves, even with a nagging hamstring injury, by taking steps to make adjustments to his training regime and work through his pain.
By modifying training and recovery routines, it allows athletes of all levels to keep injuries and pain from worsening to the point of being out of commission entirely.
“[...] It is essential to understand the limitations of your body, something experts can help you determine,” Dr. Rispoli said. “As you get older, you are more likely to have injury to certain anatomical structures from repetitive motion, so it is necessary to work with the right trainer who can find the balance of being able to push you to your peak performance without overdoing it to cause injury.”
As athletes age, it’s also important to understand which sports and exercises are harsh on our spines or joints, and modifying as needed. For Dr. Rispoli, that means alternating days of running (one of her favorite activities) with a lower impact activity like swimming to get a little extra recovery time in.
“I never expected to like swimming, but I know it’s great for my cardiovascular system, and so I challenge myself to do it,” she wrote in Life Over 50. “I don’t overdo it and I don’t feel forced to do it, but I do swim to give my joints the rest they need while still pushing my cardiovascular system.”
Dr. Rispoli reminded readers that it’s important to go slow and pay attention to the things that hurt, and the guidance of a team of professionals – including pain specialists, sports medicine doctors and physical therapists – can help navigate those nuances with the least amount of struggle.
“If your body's telling you that something is bothering you, really listen,” she said. “That said, there’s a tendency for people to become more sedentary [as they age] and feel more limited and down. Exercise not only has the power to bring people together, but it also keeps us moving when we need it most.”
Read Dr. Rispoli's article here.
Video: Meet Dr. Rispoli
Meet Dr. Rispoli, an interventional pain medicine physician passionate about helping patients eliminate pain.
About the author
discmdgroup DISC Sports and Spine Center (DISC) is one of America’s foremost providers of minimally invasive spine procedures and advanced arthroscopic techniques. Our individually picked, highly specialized physicians apply both established and innovative solutions to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate their patients in a one-stop, multi-disciplinary setting. With a wide range of specialists under one roof, the result is an unmatched continuity of care with more efficiency, less stress for the patient, and a zero MRSA infection rate. Read more articles by discmdgroup.