Bowling for Your Body

League play builds teamwork, friendships, fitness
Author: Matt McMillen

Bowling has become an important part of life for Lucas Rice, 17, who has severe hemophilia A. He is on his high school team in Indianapolis and bowls for a local league.

“Not being able to play football, I looked for something else,” Rice says. “My friends all can play football and have their own talents. Bowling is just one of mine.”

Two years ago, Rice bowled a perfect game, scoring 300 points. He’s the only one in his family of bowlers to achieve that milestone. But that’s not the only thing that matters to him. Being part of a team is just as important. “I like knowing that the whole team has to bowl well, and it’s more than just an individual effort,” he says.

Physical therapist Cindy Bailey, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, also comes from a bowling family. Her 87-year-old father still frequents the lanes.

“It’s a wonderful lifetime sport where you can make lifelong friends,” says Bailey, director of the physical therapy program at the Los Angeles Hemophilia Treatment Center at Orthopaedic Hospital. “And it’s an opportunity to get together with peers in a social environment instead of a medical environment. You can play even if you are in a wheelchair.”

Bailey, a former bowling instructor, says the sport offers some physical benefits. “You’re on your feet, walking back and forth throughout the game,” she says. Lifting and rolling the ball work muscles, but only in one arm and the opposite leg, so players get a limited workout.

Nevertheless, that workout comes with warnings: Don’t grab the heaviest ball, especially if you have shoulder, elbow or wrist problems. Try a 10- to 12-pound ball, or an even lighter one weighing 8 pounds, Bailey suggests.

Further, shoulder and elbow problems may make putting a spin on the ball difficult, Bailey says. “They may have to bowl a straighter shot.”

The lower body also takes a hit during bowling. Bowlers put a lot of strain on the knee and ankle of the leg opposite the arm with which they bowl, says Bailey. “You are always landing on that same leg, so all your weight is on it.”

Players with lower joint problems can alter their technique to lessen the toll bowling takes on their bodies, Bailey says. Try taking either a shorter approach to the line or bowling right from the line. Many leagues recognize the different needs of their players and allow such accommodations.

To prepare for the rigors of the game, try incremental lunges, which work your buttocks and leg muscles. Start with  mini lunges and progress to full lunges, as tolerated, Bailey suggests.

Talk to your physical therapist or someone on your healthcare team about what exercises will work best for you and whether you need to infuse beforehand. Rice infuses an hour before practice or competition.

Light hand weights or resistance bands can help you do bicep curls, tricep extensions and wrist curls. All exercises should be done on both sides of your body. A wrist brace for support and injury prevention is an essential piece of equipment for every bowler, Bailey advises. Braces can also be worn on problem joints such as the knee or ankle. They can be purchased at sporting good stores or from online retailers. Talk to your PT about the type of brace best suited for you.

Playing It Safe: Bleeding Disorders, Sports and Exercise, an NHF publication, rates bowling a 2, or moderately risky for people with bleeding disorders. With the proper precautions, though, bowling can be an ideal sport for both casual and competitive players.

For Rice, bowling is about more than just competition. “I love that it’s not as hard on my body as sports like football, basketball and baseball would be,” he says.