“Know safety, no injury. No safety, know injury.”
More youth are involved in sports now than ever. Sports allow time to get out of the house, get rid of extra energy, play with friends, learn, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Young athletes learn how to work with others and communicate, they learn gross motor skills, and they gain self-esteem through sports participation. With the benefits of youth sports participation, there are also risks. Risks include sprains, strains, and stress fractures. Although not all sports injuries can be prevented, there are things that can be done to reduce the chances of them occurring.
Recently, many young athletes have had their competitive sports put on hold. As organizations prepare to resume activities, here are some tips to help prevent injuries from occurring:
1. Start slow
Do not jump back in where you left off after you have had time off. Children’s bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still growing, making them inherently more susceptible to injury. Gradually work back up to the desired frequency and intensity over a few weeks or even months’ time depending on the activity being performed.
Muscles do not like to work when they are cold. It is important to include a dynamic warm up before that emphasizes te movements being performed on the field or court. A dynamic warm-up should last at least 10 minutes and include activities such as calisthenics, jumping jacks, high knees, jogging, or anything else to elevate the heart rate and warm up the muscles to be utilized through their full range of motion to prevent injuries. Learn more about dynamic warm-up ideas.
3. Cross training
Sports specialization has become more and more prevalent as sports competition increases. It is important to take at least 1 day off a week and 1 month off a year if participating in one sport year-round. The best way to combat this is to participate in multiple sports across multiple seasons. This helps create a more well-rounded athlete and help to strengthen different areas of the body for better performance across the board.
4. Communicate pain
Young athletes can have a difficult time identifying pain if it has never happened to them before. Teaching a child how to describe their pain can help parents and coaches address it before becoming a serious injury. Talk to the child about “how long has it been hurting?” “what does it feel like, sharp, dull, stabbing, aching, etc.?” Do not encourage youth to play through the pain if they express discomfort. If an injury does occur, we recommend you seek medical advice right away. Data shows that acuity matters, and the sooner you receive proper medical care, the sooner your athlete can return to sport. Request your free injury screening, in person or virtually with Telehealth.
5. Learning proper form
Each sport comes with its own set of rules and techniques. Some sports, like football and soccer, come with special considerations and rules to keep players safe. More advanced players may take this for granted, but we consider this especially important and not always intuitive for beginner level players. Coaches are a great resource for teaching proper technique, so make sure your child asks questions or your pose the questions for them. It is also markedly important to wear the appropriate safety gear whether it is a helmet, face-mask, or pads as these are designed to help prevent injuries.
Improving flexibility is best accomplished after practices or games. Youth grow at exponential rates sometimes in a short period of time and although the bones are growing, it is harder for muscles to keep up. Stretching should be incorporated into a daily fitness regimen. This aids in raising core and muscle temperature, creating improved flexibility and decreased risk of injury. Always end with a cool down and a stretch to decrease the soreness of muscles. It is important to remember, muscle soreness is not an injury and can generally be reduced with a proper warm-up, cool down, and stretch.
7. Rest and recover
Young athletes require adequate sleep and recovery time to allow muscles to rebuild. Rest is a time for healing and systemic recovery. Your body will use this stage to restore glycogen while rebuilding and strengthening the body in response to the stresses of working out. It is also important to note it is necessary for rest within practices and games to prevent heat illness or overexertion. A lack of rest and recovery can lead to over training and increase the risk for injury. Educating our kids to manage recovery by going to bed on time will help them prepare for competition. Encourage them to go to sleep earlier or to take a “rest day” from training. Not enough sleep can lead to injuries because of weakness, less coordination, and less emotional motivation. Proper rest and sleep will help refill their energy storage and prepare them for the next activity!
This may seem like a lot to remember, but a little can go a long way in preventing an injury. If something doesn’t seem right, for example, a young athlete is limping or throwing differently it is best to seek an assessment. Injuries can be evaluated by a physical therapist at any of our locations.
Schedule your appointment at one of our 11 Greater St. Louis area locations or via a Telehealth injury screening.
About the Author: Kaila Mikesch, DPT is a Festus, MO native and attended Missouri Baptist University on a volleyball scholarship where she received her degree in exercise science. Following graduation, she continued her education, receiving her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She enjoys treating athletes and especially enjoys working with those rehabilitating from serious lower extremity injuries. In her spare time, she’s a mother, wife and Cardinals fan.