03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Summer Sports Start Now

Don't let the snow and still-sub-zero temperatures fool you - its time to start getting in shape for your spring softball leagues, golf games, and pick-up soccer games.

New York winters can be long and cold; the last thing many people want to do at the end of a hard day of work is exercise. Most people spend the winter hibernating only to think that they can pick up their athletic pursuits where they left off at the end of last summer.

A large portion of the injuries that Joshua Dines, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Medicine Center of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, sees are directly related to training errors and failure to get in shape prior to returning to sporting activity. "Eighteen holes of golf or playing a game of softball doesn't seem like much to former high-school and college athletes, but as we age into our 30s and beyond, jumping into these activities without doing any exercise during the previous weeks and months can be a set-up for injury."

Dr. Dines recommends a three-part strategy to reduce the potential for injury when getting back into sporting activity after a winter of relative inactivity: 1) always warm up; 2) establish a consistent exercise program; and 3) listen to your body. Warming up by doing something as simple as walking on a treadmill or jumping jacks for 5 minutes followed by stretching your major muscle groups lessens one's risk of injury.

Becoming a "weekend warrior," where you compress all of your physical activities into Saturdays and Sundays is a set-up for injury. "While the ideal would be getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, those planning to partake in athletics during the weekend should strive for a minimum of 3 days of activity during the week," says Dr. Dines. The good news is that the weekday workouts don't have to be boring; mix them up. Weight training, cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and sport-specific drills all count toward the 30 minute goal.

For both seasoned gym veterans and neophytes alike, the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine recommends using the "10% Rule." This means that when increasing your activity level, do it in increments of no more than 10% per week. This applies to both cardiovascular exercise as well as to strength training. For example, if you ran 2 miles your first week, run no more than 2.2 miles then next week. This gives your body time to acclimate to the increased demands you are putting on it with the goal of preventing injury.

"Despite warming up appropriately and partaking in a consistent exercise program, injuries may still occur. Some occur acutely, such as ankle sprains and Achilles tendon ruptures, whereas others are more attributable to chronic overuse including rotator cuff tears, shin splints, and anterior knee pain", adds Dr. Dines. Listen to your body: if something hurts, stop doing it.

In many cases, the injuries are minor enough to respond well to rest, ice, and the use of anti-inflammatory medication. Regarding ankle sprains or shin splints, for example, if you are able to walk without pain, it should be safe to ease back into your workout routing, but start with a lesser distance than you are used to and follow the 10% rule as you build back up to your usual workout.

Certain signs, however, warrant the seeking of professional medical advice. These include, but aren't limited to, persistent pain that doesn't respond to the above-mentioned conservative measures. "Shoulder pain that affects activities of daily living or wakes one up from sleep is often a sign that something more serious is going on. Knee or ankle pain associated with persistent swelling or symptoms of locking or giving way need to be evaluated by a doctor", warns Dines.

So, don't wait for Major League Baseball Opening day to start getting ready for your spring softball league. Start exercising now to make this a fun and healthy summer.