As COVID-19 restrictions ease and the weather warms up, many children and adolescents are returning to team sports. But while an increase in sports can lead to more activity (and lots of fun!), it can also mean more injuries
When it comes to sports injuries, children and adolescents are different from adults because of growth rates and the growth plates themselves being a point of weakness. The most common things we see fractures of the growth plates, and overuse injuries. We also see a good deal of stress fractures, especially in the hips and the patella. Additionally, we see osteochondrosis, where the growth cartilage actually starts separating from the bone itself due to overuse. Most injuries are secondary to overuse.
When it comes to sports-specific injuries, here are some of the most common ones:
- Basketball: One of the biggest concerns is cardiac issues. We’ll also see injuries in the lower extremities, like “jumper’s knee” (an irritation of the growth plate in the kneecap area). Girls who play basketball are more likely to tear their ACL.
- Gymnastics: Wrist injuries are common. Some gymnasts’ wrists go into extension so much that it causes growth arrest, and that can lead to debilitating pain.
- Other sports: In sports like track and field, swimming, and dance (as well as gymnastics), we see children taking in less energy than they should or putting out more energy than they should. This can disrupt the menstrual cycle and lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis (a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle and can eventually lead to fractures).
Some of the top ways to prevent common sports injuries in children and adolescents include:
- Free play: Children should be active not just in organized sports, but also just playing outside. Free play helps kids not only from an injury prevention standpoint, but it helps them with developing friends, it helps them with social skills, and it helps them learn new skills that they would not have learned when just learning how to swing a baseball bat or throw a baseball.
- Time off: Children should have one to two days off each week from sports (games and practices) and some downtime during the year so the child isn’t playing the same sport all 12 months. Young athletes participating in more hours of sport each week than their age in years are at increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury. Children can also burn out on sports when they overtrain, and that can lead to them giving up on sports entirely. We want them to enjoy sports and stay active for the rest of their lives.
- Strength training: Strength training can prevent lower extremity injuries and has been shown to prevent some upper extremity injuries as well. Children can start strength training whenever the child is mature enough to pay attention and follow directions. In the pre-pubescent period, it’s not so much about making muscles bigger, it’s about being able to use those muscles better.
If a child does get injured, what should parents be aware of when it comes to treating sports injuries? When is it time to see a Podiatrist?
When treating musculoskeletal injuries (such as muscle strains, overuse injuries, etc.):
- Make sure the child isn’t in pain and let the injured athlete rest.
- Apply compression, whether it’s a sleeve, a brace, a boot – anything that you have at home that can put compression around the area will also decrease swelling.
- Early mobilization is important. Once their pain is decreased, get the child moving again as quickly as possible.
- Remember, “no pain no gain” is not a real thing. Young athletes should be honest with the coach and their parents if they’re injured or in pain.
If a child is injured while playing a sport, and is not getting better or starts getting worse, then it’s time to see a Podiatrist. Parents know their children best – trust your instincts.
What are benefits and drawbacks of focusing on one sport in particular versus participating in multiple sports?
Studies have found that kids who specialize early are not necessarily good athletes. They can throw a ball or hit a ball, but they can’t do the other things that kids who play multiple sports can do – they don’t have as much power or as much agility.
The only two sports that we see where early sports specialization is probably needed are gymnastics and swimming, because training for those sports starts very early. Most gymnasts, by the time they get to high school or college are already near the end of their sports career. But for most people, early sports specialization is detrimental to the athlete. It can lead to a lot of problems, not just with injury but also with depression, anxiety, and anorexia.
The ultimate goal of sports is to have fun and to learn social skills, work well on a team, and be physically active. Just have fun learn, learn life lessons, and enjoy sport for what it’s meant to be: having fun and playing with your friends.
If you are concerned about your child, call us today.
0800 473 776
(09) 212 9612