From tennis elbow to hot-tub lung

Once upon a time, most of the injuries people suffered were the result of the hard physical labor they had to perform day-in and day-out to survive. Today we have a whole new set of injuries and ailments that are the result, not of hard work, but of recreation.

Take hot-tub long, for instance. This recently identified ailment causes flu-like symptoms and fatigue. Apparently hot tubs, especially when the jets are turned on, can give off a mist laden with a germ called Mycobacterium avium. If the hot tub is indoors, that mist hangs around the hot tub and can infect those using it.

To make matters worse, people who don’t feel well because of hot-tub lung sometimes sit in the tub even more than they did before, trying to make themselves feel better.

Hot-tub lung is often misdiagnosed as asthma or an allergic reaction. The leaders in diagnosing it are the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Each detects about 10 cases a year, but they think it’s probably vastly underdiagnosed. Some sufferers have had to give up strenuous sporting activities for good, so it’s not an ailment to be taken likely.

To avoid the problem, avoid indoor hot tubs, or at least be certain they’re well-ventilated, and that their filters are cleaned and water treated often.

Most leisure-related ailments afflict joints and muscles. The most famous, tennis elbow, was identified more than 100 years ago. Half of all tennis players will suffer from it at some point.

Tennis elbow causes pain on the outside of the elbow. Lifting or bending the arm or grasping objects as light as a coffee cup can cause discomfort, and it can be hard to extend the forearm fully. It’s caused by tiny, repeated tears in a part of the tendon and in muscle coverings. This leads to inflammation that, in turn, can result in pressure that cuts off the blood flow and pinches the radial nerve, one of the major nerves controlling muscles in the arm and hand. Golfer’s elbow is a very similar injury that causes pain on the inside of the elbow instead of the outside.

Another leisure-time injury is turf toe, caused by a violent upward bending of the big toe. This over-extends the ligaments and sometimes even damages the surfaces of the bones at the joint, resulting in swelling and pain. It’s occurs most often in people who play games on artificial surfaces; shoes can grip these surfaces tightly; when the body continues forward, the toe is forced up.

Footballers’ ankle occurs when a bony growth forms at the front of the ankle where the joint capsule attaches. It usually follows an injury where the ankle has been overstretched or overbent, and results in pain when the foot is bent up or down and a band of pain across the front of the ankle joint when a soccer ball is kicked.

Joggers have to be wary of runner’s knee, an inflammation of the illio-tibial band, which runs down the outside of the thigh. If this band becomes tight, the tendon at the knee can start to rub on the bone, which eventually results in inflammation and makes running very painful.

People who enjoy jumping or throwing sports, as well as weight-lifting, tennis and badminton, are at risk for jumper’s knee, an inflammation of the patella tendon that connects the kneecap to the tibia that arises because of a partial rupture of the tendon under extreme stress, or simply from overuse.

Skier’s have to watch out for skier’s thumb, which is caused by the ski pole; if the pole is still in a skier’s hand as he falls, he’s more likely to jam his thumb into the snow and overextend it, damaging the ligament that provides stability to the thumb during activities such as pinching, holding a key to open the door, or grasping an object such as a glass (and being able to grasp a glass is very important to skiers). The best way to avoid skier’s thumb is to use strapless poles or to place the strap in the palm when grasping the pole so the pole can drop away from the hand during a fall.

And don’t think you can avoid injury by staying at home and playing video games: users of video game consoles are at risk of gamer’s thumb, pain and inflammation in the thumbs caused by the rapid, repetitive pushing of buttons on a game controller.

In this modern age of leisure, it seems, no one is safe.

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