Men and Back Pain
The Aging Athlete
He sits at a desk all week, then hits the courts or track on the weekend. Mix in a hefty dose of denial about not being a kid anymore, and you've got a recipe for sore muscles, torn ligaments, and inflamed joints.
Roy Leavitt, 46, has had pain in his right knee since college, when an opponent slammed into his leg during a basketball game. In the quarter century since that night, Leavitt, a social-services executive from Brooklyn, New York, has continued to play basketball, acquiring a list of injuries that includes repeated sprains in both ankles, a hyperextended elbow, jammed fingers on both hands, a permanently dislocated pinky, and a strained right rotator cuff.
But it was the knee problem that threatened to sideline him about a year ago, when in the middle of a driving jump shot (during a long-standing weekly pickup game), Leavitt's right leg simply gave way beneath him, and sharp, intense pain shot through his upper leg from knee to hip. His doctor diagnosed acute tendonitis, prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication and some therapeutic exercises, and warned that if the pain persisted, surgery was next. He also gently suggested that the aging jock might want to hang up his jersey.
"My wife agreed," says Leavitt. "She said, 'This is nature's way of telling you that you're too old for this game.' But as soon as the pain receded to a dull ache, I was back on the court."
Leavitt is one of legions of middle-aged men who suffer from "boomeritis," a term doctors use to describe the constellation of aches, pains, and injuries that are starting to afflict the 76 million-strong baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964. In a 2000 report, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that the number of sports-related injuries requiring medical treatment incurred by 35- to 54-year-olds jumped from 778,000 in 1991 to more than 1 million in 1998. "This generation is really the first to try to stay active and young on aging frames," says orthopedic surgeon Nicholas DiNubile, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. "And we're starting to see the result of that." Moreover, according to a study published last year in the journal Injury Prevention, men suffer such injuries at more than double the rate that women do.