Preventing Childhood Sports Injuries

Children and teens have vulnerabilities to injury that adult athletes just don’t have. Among the most numerous of these vulnerabilities are the growth plates at the ends of long bones. Growth plates are weaker than their adjoining bones, ligaments, and tendons, and injury to a growth plate can disrupt the normal growth of that bone.

Because young athletes today are bigger and stronger, we might forget that vulnerabilities like these, related to growth, have not gone away. If anything, these built-in susceptibilities to injuries have become even more important with bigger, stronger, faster young athletes who push themselves harder today than ever.

Children are not only still growing, but their growth is also uneven. Bones, muscles, and connective tissue grow at different rates and times, and the young athletes who compete can vary widely in development, even within defined age groups. So, it is difficult to generalize about what a young athlete may be ready to take on, in training and competition. Individual attention is much more important than it might be among adults.

Redefining Strength, Flexibility – and Pain

Year-round training – common among athletes of all ages now – was not feasible until recent years. Even professional athletes had to do something else for a living in the off-season. Today there is no off-season, only some variations in the training schedule. As a result, overuse injuries, which occur gradually over time, are a new feature of the sports medicine landscape that takes a different kind of diagnosis: watchful and aware.

The emphasis on massive muscle strength, particularly in American football, is being tempered somewhat as the more useful balance of strength, mobility, and flexibility are becoming fully appreciated. Exercise programs in the most advanced and accomplished sports programs are reflecting this balance increasingly.

Pain, and how athletes and coaches discuss it, is undergoing a redefinition, too. Once widely held to be the threshold of improvement, pain is more usefully seen as a vital form of the body’s communication, one to be listened for and considered carefully.

Responsibility Begins in the Family

Professional sports have long given us examples – both good and bad – from which we can learn. In recent years, they have helped heighten our awareness of the physical hazards inherent in many competitive sports. Time after time the answer seems to be that risks cannot be eliminated altogether, but that risks can be minimized with conscious, well-informed action.

Throughout the field of healthcare, attention is shifting from heroic treatment to prevention. So, too, in sports medicine a new energy is going into preventing injuries. There was a time when surgeries and unusual treatments were a strange badge of membership in sports, even among youthful athletes. More and more wise athletes, parents, and coaches at every level are seeing that the most authentic, professional approach of all is to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.

10 Reminders from the Best in the Business

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine composed “10 Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids and Teens.”  As a concise and powerful list of reminders for parents and families, it’s hard to beat. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases presents an excellent guide on its website, too, with detailed how-to articles appended to it.

Notice that near the top of the Johns Hopkins list is, “get a preseason physical.” One of the most enduring and effective measures for preventing childhood sports injuries is to begin with a physical exam. Conscientious school programs have required pre-season exams for generations. Today, though, many organized youth sports programs are not school-connected or might skip this requirement for other reasons. That’s where we parents come in.

Make it a family requirement to start each sport with a pre-season physical. Why not schedule an appointment with us at Global Family Medicine to begin this time-honored family health and safety step? Call us at 843-815-6468.