Young athletes today are often participating in their favorite sport year-round. However, more time on the field brings a greater risk of experiencing sports-related injuries, like ACL and meniscus injuries in the knee and growth plate injuries in the shoulder and elbow.
IWS orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon Dr. Frank DiFazio provides these 5 injury prevention tips to help keep your young athlete off the sidelines:
- Talk with your young athlete
Make sure your young athlete understands that he or she should talk with you and seek help if experiencing pain or something that doesn’t feel right. “Some kids just push through pain and this can lead to a more serious condition that could have been prevented with earlier intervention,” says Dr. DiFazio.
- Encourage cross-training and a variety of sports
Parents should consider limiting the number of teams their athlete is on at any given time and changing up the routine regularly so that the same muscles and tendons are not overused.
- Stress the importance of warming up
Stretching is an important prevention technique that should become habit for all athletes before starting a sport or activity. A mix of both static and dynamic stretching during warmups helps to loosen the muscles and prepare them for play. Toe touches and stretches where you hold a position for a certain amount of time are considered static. Jumping jacks and stretches where the body continues to move during stretching are considered dynamic.
- Make sure they rest
Athletes of all ages need to rest between practices, games and events. A lack of sleep and muscle fatigue predispose an athlete to injury. In fact, the most common injuries seen in young athletes are overuse injuries: too many sports and not enough rest. Dr. DiFazio suggests parents should plan an offseason for their athlete allowing him or her adequate time to recuperate before the next season.
- Recognize injury and get help early
If parents (and/or coaches) notice that there is a change in their athlete’s technique, such as a limp when running, throwing differently or rubbing a leg during activity, they should consult with an athletic trainer or coach and find out how long the problem has persisted and make sure activity is curtailed. If the problem persists or is accompanies by significant pain, parents should seek assessment for their child with an orthopedic sports medicine specialist prior to allowing the child to resume play.
“I have seen many young athletes who have had ignored their symptoms allowing their condition to progress prior to seeking treatment,” says Dr. DiFazio. He warns: “We need to get these kids in to see a doctor earlier to prevent this from happening.”
When to see an orthopedic sports medicine specialist for your young athlete’s sports-related injury:
- Consistent pain during or after sports
- Persistent or new swelling around a joint
- Recurrent instability – joint “gives way/buckles”
- Painful pops (non-painful pops are OK)
- Pain that does not respond to a period of rest