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Disease from Athletic Strain



Athletic exercises, while they are in themselves exceedingly useful, when practised in moderation, are often causes of danger to health. Even in those cases where the training includes the development of the whole of the body an extreme course of train ing may produce a strain or an ultimate degeneration which is most detrimental. We see such danger in the cases of men who at great self-sacrifice are, artificially, brought up to what is called perfection of work and endurance, as well as in men who are trained to perform particular feats, such as prize-fighting, rowing, running, foot-ball, and the like. There is a time in the life of those who are trained when it is considered that all parts of the body are equally developed, equally strong, equally active. I have no doubt that for a period during mature adolescence this point may be gained, but it is not lasting. There is no one human body so perfect, in conformation and in hereditary value of life through all parts of the body, as to be able to sustain equality of perfection for any length of time. There is no human pursuit so unvarying in its character as to demand an equal quan tity of work from all organs of the body. Thus in a short time, after what is called complete training has been attained, there is derangement in the body. One part fails while the other remains in full power, which means, virtually, disease, for one organ does not balance with the other. The late Mr. John Fernandez Clarke illustrated this point most admirably in an essay on the fatal ill ness of Heenan, the American prize-fighter. In Heenan system atized over-training destroyed the harmony of organic action. Heenan retained an imperfect general muscular power, an exces sive circulating and breathing power with deficient assimilation. As a consequence the circulation itself became embarrassed, and the man broke up.

In athleticism there is still another danger. It would appear that when once the muscular organs have been brought to what is known as a high state of training, and have been maintained at this pitch for many months, they have been made to go through a stage of life which has told too determinately, as a tax, on their allotted life. In other words, they become prematurely old, have undergone changes as if from age, and thereupon have lost power. A knowledge of this fact is very old; it dates from the time when the athletic exercises of ancient Rome were transformed into causes of physical deterioration and of vital decay.

Some muscular exercises are at once, injurious from the cir cumstance that they call parts of the muscular system irregularly into play. Rowing is one of these exercises when it is carried out as a systematic labor. In rowing the lower limbs of the body are steadily fixed, while the trunk of the body is moved backwards and forwards with every alternate position, and with great mus cular exertion. The effect of this is to subject the thoracic and abdominal organs to special pressures. The blood-vessels of these parts are brought to their extreme limits of capacity for labor, and the heart has thrown upon it an amount of work which is dispro portionate and beyond its power, if that be forced over a certain limited degree. Thus professed rowers frequently become affected with one or other of the diseases of the heart or circulation, called hypertrophy, dilatation, aneurismal enlargement, degeneration.

Running and walking against time also bring about their evils. In these exercises, carried to an extreme degree, the strain upon the lungs and heart is intense; and concussion, to which so much reference was made in the last chapter, is added to the strain. The heart in persons who carry out this athletic struggle becomes rapidly affected; it attains a large size at first, and is then ren dered irregular in its action, if not intermittent. Sometimes it is made intermittent with the first effort in running. One of the worst illustrations of this last accident is at present under my ob servation. The subject of it is a young man, twenty-three years of age, who was brought to what lie very correctly termed "a dead stop" in his first great race, twelve months ago, and who, notwithstanding a marked improvement under absolute rest since, can never be expected to regain complete soundness of his circu lation.

Occasionally during the exercise of running the breathing fails suddenly instead of the heart. Every runner knows that before he can steadily keep up his pace he must "get his wind," as he expresses it. When he starts to run his heart begins to beat in excess of his breathing, and his breathing consequently seems to be short or lost. By-and-by the heart reaches the height of its velocity, while the breathing muscles are brought up to their full pitch, so that there is established, by this means, an equal action between the two sets of vital organs, and, their balance restored, they go on together until they are exhausted, or until the limbs they supply with oxygenated blood are exhausted. Sometimes when the " wind has been got " the limbs fail first; but the wind is not always got; for when the runner has naturally a weak chest, weak muscles of respiration, or feeble lungs, the strain upon these organs is more than they can endure. Thereupon one of three accidents may happen. The diaphragm and other breathing mus cles may become partly paralyzed by the effort; or some of the air vesicles of the lungs may give way under the pressure, pro ducing emphysema; or some of the vessels of the lungs may give way, producing hemoptysis, vomiting of blood. I have known all these diseased conditions induced by the athletic effort of run ning against time.

The game of foot-ball is another exercise which, violently car ried out, leads to many dangers from muscular overwork and strain. It leads, perhaps, more than any other game to direct physical accidents from kicks, falls, and concussions; but apart from these accidents it combines with the dangers incident to run ning another danger which is very great, that of sudden cessation from active running in order to make the effort of kicking the ball. At the moment when the balance of the circulation and respiration is being, or is, established, there comes this sudden check, by which a tremendous strain is thrown immediately upon the heart, under which that organ is, for a moment, checked alto gether in its beat. The worst forms of heart disease I have ever seen in the young, as produced by athleticism, have sprung from this exercise. I had one boy under my care in whom the heart was brought by this cause to so large a size that as he lay in bed the bedclothes could be seen to vibrate from the impulses of the heart. He had to retain the recumbent position for a period of two years before the balance of the circulation was fully restored.

heart, body, time, brought, breathing, exercises and running