I have finished the first of my three anatomy books – Sports Anatomy by the German professor Jürgen Weineck.
The only suitable way to start a review of this book is with a quote from an entirely different book: the wonderful Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. As hilarious today as when it was first published in 1889, the story begins with the healthy young protagonist lamenting the following:
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. […] I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee. […] I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.
If you recognise yourself in this description, do not read Sports Anatomy. If you are convinced that you have brain cancer, lupus and multiple sclerosis after googling a diffuse ache in your elbow, do not read this book. You have been warned.
To anyone else, I would recommend it.
The book describes itself as an anatomy textbook for people studying to become PE teachers. While it uses the correct medical vocabulary, it also utilises common names for tissues and structures. A thorough reading will leave you able to explain the basics of the musculosceletal system to your grandma as well as to impress your friends with the medical terminology – a mix of Latin and Greek that will send any linguist into a blind rage. (I wouldn’t try to impress medical professionals with it though. They just might beat you to death with a terminology lexicon.)
As the title says, Sports Anatomy deals with the parts of human anatomy that are of particular interest to sports – i.e. the muscles, bones and joints. It takes a sensible bottom-up approach to the subject and is separated into six parts:
- Structures (bones and muscles)
- Functional units (joint systems such as hip, knee, spine, shoulder, etc.)
- Simple movements (raising an arm, bending a leg)
- Complex movements (for different kinds of sports)
- Strengthening exercises (very brief and without illustrations)
Part three is not only the largest, but also the most important. It contains what you would expect from a book called Sports Anatomy: depictions and descriptions of the joints, the bones, ligaments and other structures that make them up as well as the muscles (and their tendons) that move them.
What sets this book apart from the others is that it also offers information on the most common sports-related injuries, from fractures and ligament tears to overuse injuries and all the way up to osteoarthritis. Causes, symptoms, necessary diagnostic tests and a proposed treatment plan are offered for each injury, as well as a time frame for recovery and possible long-term consequences. In other words the book expounds in great detail just how screwed you’ll be if you do sports badly.
I think you can now see why raging hypochondriacs should probably not read it, even though it is not meant to be a doctor substitute, merely a source of information. Everyone else might profit. I certainly did – and not primarily from learning something terribly new, although there was plenty of that. What Sports Anatomy did for me is drive home the importance of form and of such things as prudence and measure.
The message is the same that you have heard a thousand times before. Warm up beforehand. Cool down afterwards. Stretch. Increase intensity gradually. Pay attention to appropriate shoes and/or appropriate floors. Rest. I knew all that before. You know all that right now. But the book explains over and over again what could go wrong if you ignore the gospel. If you don’t warm up your muscles, you might pull or tear one. If you don’t cool down, your cartilage might not adapt to exercise. If you overdo it, your cartilage might go away entirely. (Which is not something you want, by the way.) If you overdo it in the wrong shoes or on an unfamiliar type of floor, your tendons will suffer. If you never take time to rest, things might just get weaker instead of stronger.
One of the things I had never heard before was the following: If you delay treatment for an inflamed tooth, toenail, sinus or whatever, you might actually increase your risk of developing an inflammation of something you use to dance, such as a tendon or a synovial bursa. I wish someone had told me that before I decided to ignore my wisdom teeth for ten years. Maybe my Achilles wouldn’t have decided to hate me so much. (Or maybe it would have, because I did mistreat it. Curse you, countless water park stairs.)
The good news the book tells us is, properly performed exercise is great for you, especially as you age. And most injuries will heal up nicely with proper care, which Sports Anatomy offers at least a guideline on. The body is highly complex and wonderfully resilient, adaptable and trainable. It just needs time and TLC to rebound sometimes.
The other things I learned from Sports Anatomy are much less grave than all that. They range from curious facts (it takes 33 muscles per leg just to stand up straight and walk) to the whys of certain movements in dance (you have to set your heels down in-between changements because that allows your calf muscles to develop the most strength for the next jump). The complex movements Weineck analyses are pertinent to various Olympic disciplines such as spear throwing or swimming. If you read it carefully, you might be able to extrapolate to dance. But I got the book to give me a fair general knowledge of the bones, joints and muscles – and it did that.
There is one major drawback to Weineck’s Sports Anatomy. Despite its claim of being translated into multiple languages, I could only find it in its original German and in Spanish. The English-speaking world will have to use another book to get all worked up over an imaginary lateral epicondylitis.
PS: Three Men in a Boat is a gem of a book. You can download and read it for free on Project Gutenberg.
PPS: Lateral epicondylitis is a really fancy name for a tennis elbow.