BACK TO SCHOOL SPORTS – INJURY PREVENTION & SAFE RECOVERY FOR YOUNG ATHELETES
Back to school is here. And while not all of our kids are going back to organized sports just yet, for those who are (and for young athletes that train year-round), it’s important to educate ourselves on common injuries, prevention, and recovery. The goods new is that most of these injuries are minor and have minimal recovery time!
Ankle sprains may be the most common injury in all sports. A sprain, “roll,” or “turn” of the ankle is a twisting injury that damages supporting ligaments of the ankle. Most ankle sprains in young athletes heal quickly with a short period of immobilization, then an exercise program and short rest from sports. When considering this injury in children and teens, be aware of the non-displaced growth plate fracture of the fibula, which can look almost identical to an ankle sprain. Luckily, a brief period of immobilization is the treatment for this injury as well.
Knee pain is particularly common in young female athletes. Knee pain is usually considered an overuse injury and referred to as “patellofemoral syndrome.” Pain in the front of the knee is usually due to pressure overload on the kneecap or “patella.” In young female athletes, this is often due to different degrees of muscle imbalance and high activity levels. A combination of physical therapy and strength training a few times a week is very successful in treating knee pain in young athletes.
Osgood-Schlatter is a very specific type of knee pain. Osgood-Schlatter is caused by a traction injury on an apophysis (a special type of growth plate) at the top of the shin bone (tibia). The traction occurs during high activity levels on strong and tight, developing, muscles. This injury can cause a bump at the bottom of the knee, which may be painful and swollen. Recovery can include any combination of rest, stretching, ice, NSAIDs, and/or a supportive knee strap.
Little Leaguer’s Elbow is usually considered the classic overuse injury and includes any pain of the elbow due to excessive throwing. Young athletes typically recover with rest, stretching and attention to proper throwing form. In some rare cases, a young athlete may end up requiring surgery if this injury goes untreated, so visiting an orthopedic physician for an evaluation early is recommended.
ACL tears are another extremely common injury in young athletes. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a stabilizing ligament of the knee which can be torn during an uncontrolled twisting motion. ACL repairs almost always require surgery in the young and active population. Additionally, other structures in the knee, namely the shock-absorbing menisci, are often damaged during injury as well. Generally, these additional damaged structures also need surgery for repair. While there is a high rate of return to sports after ACL injuries, it can be up to 6-12 months before safely returning to play. Recent studies show that many ACL injuries can be prevented if muscles surrounding the knees are strong and flexible. ACL tear prevention includes exercises that increase muscle power, balance, and improve core strength and stability.
In the last few years, big steps have been taken in school sports to help ensure children and teens are as safe as possible. However, more can be done to prevent sports injuries in young athletes. Most importantly, keep up with visits to health care providers to help catch injuries early on (or before they occur!) and continue to be diligent with cross training and stretching.
If you would like to learn more about sports injury prevention and wellness for athletes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 616- 516-6230.