Organized sports for children are so rich with benefits – physically, mentally, and culturally – that it is well worth navigating the risks that may be associated with them. The school, club, or program has experience and resources – and may have leadership – that help reduce those risks. But with all the appearance and benefits of organization, it’s important for the parent to be an attentive, final “decider” on what the child should take part in, what they should do to prepare, and what he or she should avoid. As a practice dedicated to the family, we’re here to advise at Global Family Medicine.
We still find some tips published a couple of years ago by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to be good advice for parents of young athletes. Their “10 Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids and Teens” is a concise and powerful list of reminders for parents and families. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases also offers an excellent guide on its website, with detailed how-to articles appended to it.
Begin with an Exam
One of the most enduring and effective measures for preventing childhood sports injuries is to begin with a physical exam. Near the top of the Johns Hopkins list is, “Get a preseason physical.” Conscientious school programs have required pre-season exams for generations. Yet, today many organized youth sports programs are not school-connected or might skip this requirement for other reasons. That’s where we parents come in.
Recognize that Children are Different
Individual attention is much more important than it might be among adults, and this care includes factors such as these:
- Children and teens have vulnerabilities to injuries 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.
- Children are still growing, and their growth is 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 aged groups. So, it is difficult to generalize about what a young athlete may be ready to take on in training and competition.
Bigger and Stronger and Still Vulnerable
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.
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.
A New View of Training
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. 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.
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 today as a vital form of the body’s communication, one to be listened for and considered carefully.
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.