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Sport Specific Injuries: Bowling

I love it when my kids and I can have something in common. When I was growing up, I enjoyed watching the 1960s cartoon The Flintstones. Twenty or so years later, I watched the syndicated reruns with my girls. One of the more memorable things about the show was the way Fred Flintstone bowled. He would run on his toes, the rest of his body motionless, ball held in outstretched arm behind him. Then he would fling it, almost side arm, as effortlessly as if it were a golf ball. Try as we might, none of us could ever quite duplicate his approach. The truth of the matter is, despite how easy Fred might make it look, bowling is a complex activity that often leads to injury.

Because of the repetitive nature of bowling (as with nearly all sports), even the most conscientious of bowlers can find themselves hurt. This is complicated by the often unnatural movements that bowlers require of their bodies. And because bowling is a popular activity for people of all ages, novices can easily hurt themselves with incorrect form. Painful results run the gamut from the mildly inconvenient (such as pulled muscles or sprained fingers) to the more serious (such as ruptured ligaments or impingement syndrome). As with all other injuries, prevention is essential, and it’s important to know how to protect yourself so your season isn’t cut short. To assess your risk, ask yourself the following questions: How often do I bowl? How much do I know about proper form and equipment usage? What is my general level of fitness?

How often you bowl can be a good indicator as to which type of injury you’re most likely to sustain. Those who bowl infrequently are more prone to acute (short term) injuries. This occurs when sudden or unusual stress is placed on the body, and it’s unable to cope. Muscle strains, joint sprains, and delayed onset muscle soreness (the soreness felt 24-48 hours after new activity) are examples of these types of injuries. Conversely, frequent bowlers are more prone to chronic (long term) injuries, such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Bowling is a specialized activity that requires unusual movements from muscles that aren’t frequently used otherwise. Proper form maximizes ball control while minimizing injury risk. Bowling shouldn’t hurt; if it does, seek help in improving your form. And make sure you’re using the correct equipment. Having your grip and fit checked will go a long way in preventing finger sprains, and high-quality footwear is crucial in avoiding falls.

A good general level of fitness is important in preventing injuries of all kinds. There are six primary body parts that are vulnerable to bowling injuries – the back, wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, and hip. While overall fitness should be the priority for infrequent bowlers, serious bowlers should also include stretching, strengthening, and stabilization exercises that focus on these areas.

Because it requires so much repetitive motion, many bowlers find themselves injured in spite of the best of preventative measures. Early treatment is key in minimizing recovery time and preventing recurrences. The first step is often the hardest – rest the injured area. This usually means you must stop bowling for a while. Although it’s difficult, if you don’t give your injury the rest it needs to heal, you’ll never fully recover. Ice the area for 20 minutes at a time, several times each day, to reduce pain and inflammation. Gradually introduce gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to rebuild yourself to your former level of activity. And when you do return to bowling, do so slowly to avoid reinjury. If treated early, most bowling injuries will heal within a few weeks; if your injury persists longer than that or gets worse, visit your physical therapist or doctor.

Whether you’re a league leader or a casual cosmic bowler, injury is a constant threat, but taking preventative measures will lead you to better bowling. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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