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 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. Increasingly, 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.
The First Fact: Children, Even Teens, Are Not Adults
More care is the answer to more complexity when it comes to preventing childhood sports injuries. The complexity that demands this care includes factors such as these:
- Children are still growing, and their growth is uneven. Not only do bones, muscles, and connective tissue grow at different rates and times, but also the young athletes who compete can vary widely in development, even within defined aged 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.
- Children and teens have vulnerabilities to injury that adult athletes just don’t have. Among the most numerous are the growth plates at the ends of long bones. Growth plates are weaker than their adjoining bones, ligaments, and tendons. 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, and faster young athletes who push themselves harder today than ever.
Redefining Strength, Flexibility – and Pain
Year-round training – common among athletes of all ages now – was not feasible even for professional athletes, within the lifetimes of people we know today. Thus, 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 increasingly reflecting this balance.
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.
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.