When considering how to protect children from sports-related injuries, our minds likely default to injuries that are acute in nature. We envision the concussion-threatening collision of two football players or imagine the ominous sound of a “pop” from a soccer player’s knee. Preventing these traumatic, or acute, injuries is certainly a priority. Stop Sports Injuries has provided detailed, sport-specific guides to aid in reducing the risk of traumatic injuries in youth sports. Parents are encouraged to remember that when focusing solely on this type of prevention, we overlook the shocking prevalence of injuries related to overuse. Often referred to as a repetitive strain injury or chronic injury, this affliction accounts for an estimated 50% of all youth sports injuries (1).
In youth sports, overuse injuries often make themselves known in the form of an aching joint or lingering pain during a particular motion. More precisely, these symptoms may actually be pointing to one of many repetitive stress injuries that span all types of sports. These include: tennis elbow, pitching elbow, runner’s knee, swimmer’s shoulder, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and many others. The commonality between these conditions is that they are all the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the body. This micro-trauma has accumulated faster than the child’s ability to heal. Our bodies are programmed to combat this damage with a physiological response that protects us from further damage. This usually includes inflammation, pain and reduced range of motion.
Since overuse injuries result from cumulative strain on the affected area, they often creep in undetected. They can begin with a feeling of minor discomfort; this often allows the injury to linger untreated. The longer any overuse injury is left untreated the more likely it is to contribute to further physiological complications such as an altered gait or muscle imbalances. The good news is that you don’t need a PhD in kinesiology to start protecting your kids from common overuse injuries today.
The dietary needs of active children regularly participating in physical conditioning activities are different than that of their less active peers. Reference the helpful guide provided MyPlate to confirm that you’re serving up the proper nutrients and portion sizes from each food group. Brush up on your nutrition-savvy to help support smart adjustments to the changing demands of your child’s nutrition needs.
First, carbohydrates, the main source of energy. Sports that require excessive durations of constant activity such as cross-country running or swimming will likely lead to an increased need for carbohydrates. Whole grain carbs such as brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal are all excellent sources of high-quality carbohydrates. Next, support muscle repair and growth with an adequate protein supply. Dr. Dennys Maldonado, family and sports medicine physician at Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, states that a growing teenage athlete is to consume 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Note that Dr. Maldonado also clarifies that it is not necessary to exceed this amount and that lean sources of protein are preferred. Finally, incorporating healthy fats such as fatty fish, almonds and avocados further supports overall health and cognitive development.
Providing high quality food with minimal artificial ingredients is a great way to fuel your child for success. Ingredients that come from the earth or naturally occur in nature are preferred. Avoid the temptation to overfeed your child. Many children are intuitive eaters with the ability to self-regulate their eating. Generally, there is no need to force seconds on a child that tells you they are full.
The majority of overuse injuries come from errors in training and conditioning programs. In the case of activities that require highly repetitive, technical motions it is critical that children are being taught proper form. Examples of these types of activities are golf or pitching. Spending a little time teaching your child the basics of throwing a baseball in your backyard is likely not going to result in a repetitive strain injury. However, for a child who is training to be a baseball pitcher and practices over an hour a day, technique and recovery are critical. Proper coaching from competent coaches and the support of athletic trainers becomes an essential for these scenarios.
Rapidly scaled conditioning is the primary culprit behind many overuse injuries. It’s tempting to think of kids as boundless sources of energy with an uncanny ability to recover. The reality is that depending on phases of growth and other factors, children often need more time to recover than adults. According to an article published by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, the 10 percent rule is helpful when increasing training. According to this concept, an activity should never be increased by more than 10 percent each week. This rule applies to frequency, intensity, time and type of training or conditioning activity. Dependent on the sport 10 percent may be an aggressive jump. This is why many organizations like the National Basketball Association have developed their own youth training guidelines.
Outfitting a growing child each season in sporting equipment can be an expensive endeavor. While it’s not necessary to seek top-of-the-line sports equipment, it is important to avoid poor fitting or overly worn gear. Avoid buying used or recycling hand-me-down items like shoes or skates which will be broken in based on the previous user’s stride. Make sure kids are properly sized for helmets and other protective gear to ensure a secure fit. Equipment such as hockey sticks or golf clubs need to be the appropriate length to avoid unnecessary postural contortions.
Know that some sports essentials are inherently tough on users. Ballet slippers, for example, cause an array of foot problems. Soccer cleats are traditionally made to be as light as possible and lack the support or cushion of a running shoe. This sets the stage for plantar fasciitis, shin splints and in more severe cases stress fractures. By being cognoscente of these gear-related shortcomings, we can develop a plan to combat them. Dancers may need to familiarize themselves with the benefits of regularly icing feet to control inflammation. Soccer players may be encouraged to wear running shoes as practice conditions allow. Coaches may also recommend certain stretches or techniques like foam rolling to actively support recovery and injury prevention.
Though it may be tempting to fixate on nurturing a child’s athletic ability in a particular sport, keep an open mind to cross-training. Mixing up the routine with a completely different activity on the weekend benefits child athletes both physically and mentally. Young children also tend to suffer less chronic injuries when they participate in multiple sports throughout the year, rather than a year-long single sport (2).
Encourage family discussions about training, practice experiences and coaching. Hearing that swim team’s warm-up has suddenly jumped from 100 meters to 1600 meters in a week may signal an omission of the 10 percent rule. Hearing that your child has recurring, localized aches and pains could be a warning sign that an overuse injury is on the way or has already begun. Some overuse injuries are due to muscular imbalances or minor genetic abnormalities such as uneven leg length. These factors can manifest in the form of injury but can often be overcome through physical therapy, orthotics or other modalities. When identified early on, the child has the benefit of being given the proper tools to mitigate the issue or possibly outgrowing it all together.
SiteWell Solutions believes that safe sports are fun sports. We hope this article has provided you with new insights to help keep your child athlete injury free. Please visit our blog for more health, wellness and injury prevention resources.
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