Whether it’s a car a computer or a relationship, everything has a breaking point. Our bodies are no different. We can get shut down by an acute injury (like a football hit causing a torn knee ligament) or by general wear and tear over time (like a pitcher’s overused shoulder). The secret to longevity isn’t whether or not you break; it’s how well you recover and repair when you do.
Just like your car, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of your body if you perform routine maintenance, like stretching and developing functional strength. You want to use your muscles without overusing them. That’s especially true for two common trouble areas for athletes—knees and shoulders.
Sandwiched between the two longest bones in the body—the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone)—the knee works like a door hinge, bending in only one direction, backward. This limited range of motion—combined with the heavy stress placed on the knee and the high potential for torque (twisting motions)—means the knee is constantly at risk for strains and other injuries.
The most common knee ailment? A torn meniscus. Shaped like a suction cup, the meniscus adds stability to the knee joint, keeping the round bottom of the thigh bone sitting nicely on top of the shin bone. The meniscus also produces synovial fluid to lubricate cartilage. If your knee goes zig while the rest of your body zags, your meniscus can tear.
The shoulder houses two joints connecting three bones—the clavicle (collarbone), scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus (long bone in the upper arm). The two joints allow you to rotate your arms in multiple directions. Your rotator cuff is made of tendons and ligaments that keep the shoulder joints in place and allow you to move them in so many ways.
Overuse those ligaments, like baseball pitchers often do, and you risk tearing muscles or tendons around the shoulder. To build up your rotator cuff muscles in the off-season, avoid the pitching motion for several months. And never perform shoulder exercises without being able to see your hands.