With summer activities and sports still in full swing, it’s an important time of year to reassess your physical well-being. To learn more about orthopedic health and fitness, we spoke with Dr. Craig Westin, an orthopedic surgeon at the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital and Illinois Bone and Joint Institute. Dr. Westin also serves as the Medical Director for Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet and as a team physician for the U.S. Figure Skating Team.
Sheridan Road: Do you have any practical tips on how to minimize the risk of injury while participating in outdoor activities?
Dr. Westin: Warm up for at least 10 minutes before vigorous exercise. Stretching is also very important. Stretching after you have warmed up is more effective. If you get hurt, apply ice and not heat.
Many [outdoor-related] injuries are from what we call “training errors,” and that’s usually doing too much, too soon, or doing something the body is not conditioned for. People may try something like waterskiing or a long bike trip when they haven’t done anything to prepare their body for it. That’s when people run into trouble. Living in Chicago, when the weather is good, you want to just go out and do things—and you can get away with it in your 20s, most of the time—but, as people get older or less regularly active, they often get into trouble. So, if you’re going to do something that’s different or more physically stressful than you’re used to, you need to plan a little. You’ll have more fun and reduce the risk of injury.
SR: How can people modify their exercise regimens to avoid pain or injury?
Dr. Westin: The best way to modify an exercise routine is to use a gradual progression to get yourself in shape—in a few weeks, not a few days. You also need to pay attention to pain, if it’s occuring. Pain causes weakness, and weakness leads to injury. The worst thing people can do is follow the adage, “No pain, no gain.” With professional athletes, we use the Three-Day Rule: If something hurts in the same place for three days, you have to tell your coach, trainer, or doctor, so the pain can be evaluated. If you ignore pain, it usually gets worse and prolongs recovery. In the gym, be careful with free weights if you have shoulder problems, and, with the lower extremity, be careful with running. If it hurts, change something, and if changing doesn’t work, ask for help.
SR: Could you tell us a little bit about your experience with The Joffrey Ballet and the U.S. Figure Skating Team?
Dr. Westin: My downtown office is a block from The Joffrey studios. I see The Joffrey dancers on a regular basis at the studios, and then as needed in other places. The highest standard in my business is returning someone to normal—as if they were never injured—and my challenge is to help these people do the amazing things that they do. They are very tuned in, extremely motivated, very committed to what they’re doing, and they work extremely hard; but they’re also smart enough to listen and work with the therapists and with me to follow the recommendations, because it’s probably the quickest path to getting them back onstage or back on the ice. They listen to the body’s signals.
One of my most rewarding memories was when I fixed a ballerina’s ACL, which is a career-ending injury if it’s not fixed properly. To restore a principal dancer’s health was very satisfying. One of the scariest instances that I remember was when I was with our U.S. Figure Skating Team at a World Championship in Germany when one of our skaters fell and an opponent skated over the back of her hand, cutting all the tendons to her fingers; that required surgery right away. Fortunately, those kinds of bad accidents are very rare. As the personal orthopedic surgeon for figure skater Sasha Cohen, one of my proudest moments was in 2006 when Sasha won the Olympic Silver Medal in Turin, Italy.
SR: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Dr. Westin: Getting people back to what they love—whether it’s back in the game, back onstage, or back on the golf course. I think people value health above everything, so getting people back to the activities they love is the most rewarding part of my job.
For more information, contact Dr. Westin at [email protected].