5 Ways to Avoid Injury in Young Athletes

Jun 15, 2011

Vince Kame Jr.

by Vince Kame Jr.
PT, MS, ATC | Owner of the South Chandler Location

In almost all aspects in today’s society, it seems like kids are acting and performing much older than their age. From communication on the internet, to sociologic decisions to participating in sports.
The level of sophistication is advanced compared to many years ago.
Unfortunately, the development of the body has not and will never catch up to the demands of today’s world. We are seeing more and more injuries in those who participate in sports as kids and those injuries are more similar to those we see in adults. If we cannot force Mother Nature to adjust as quickly as we would like then we must make adjustments ourselves so that we can prevent some of these injuries.48 million young people participate in sports between the ages of 5 and 18. There are 2 million High School Athletes who are responsible for 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. Injuries are going to occur, but The Center for Disease Control estimates ½ of the injuries in youth sports are preventable. Here are some ways to decrease the risk we all take when participating in sport.

1. Equipment: Each sport has its own equipment.One of the easiest and best ways to prevent some injuries is to make sure that the equipment used is in good shape and is fitted well. This is critical in sports, such as football, baseball and hockey, where there is a large amount of equipment worn. Helmets, shoulder pads, hip and thigh pads as well as others need to be sized well so that they can serve the functions that they were designed. This includes one of the more hated to wear pieces of equipment, the mouth guard. Each association has equipment fitting specification of their websites and should be reviewed prior to purchasing.

2. Build a Strong Foundation: Once the sport is picked and the equipment fit properly, it is important to learn the fundamentals and basic techniques. Many injuries are caused by the athlete attempting to perform tasks they are not ready for or doing something incorrectly. Unfortunately some youth sport coaches are well intentioned but not well trained. Seek out leagues that have their coaches go through training and certification processes that ensure they know how to coach the fundamentals of the sport. This makes the sport more fun for the athlete as well as safer for all. As the skill of the athlete improves, it is also important to learn the proper performance training techniques. The demands of the sport on the body demand proper preparation. Organizations such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association have strict criteria and maintain certification, CSCS, for those who specialize in how to properly train athletes of all ages. 

3. Warm-up & Cool down: Do not be in a rush to either play the game or, once the game is over, get on to the next task. Proper warm up and cool down is critical for injury prevention. At one time pre game or practice routines were long static stretches. We now know that stretches held for long periods of time will cause weakness for the short term. This is why we do more dynamic type stretching and warming up prior to participation. It is important to get the muscles warm and to achieve the proper length in a dynamic way so that they are prepared to do the functions we are about to ask of them. The PEP program was developed by Southern California University specifically for female soccer and was shown to significantly decrease the incidence of ACL injuries in that population. Other similar programs have been developed and can be accessed through a strength and conditioning specialist. Once the game or practice is complete than a proper cool down is needed. This is when the longer held stretching is done so that as the muscle cools it is maintained in a lengthened position. 

4. Hydration: Another critical aspect in both injury prevention and performance is hydration levels. Especially in Arizona it is very important to maintain proper hydration levels. This needs to be maintained at all times not just prior to or during the athletic event. Monitor urine colors. The color of the athletes urine should be equivalent to lemon aide not apple juice. Make sure that the athlete is drinking water throughout the day, every day. For every 2% decrease in hydration levels, there is a 10% decrease in muscle performance. There have also been correlations made between dehydration and slower reaction times as well as poor decision making. Both of these can lead to potential injuries. It is recommended on game or practice day to drink 10 – 15 oz 2 – 3 hours prior, 8 – 10 oz 15 minutes prior and 8 -10 oz every 15 to 20 minutes of participation.

5. Diversify: One troubling aspect of youth sports in today’s society is the trend to specialize in one sport earlier and earlier. This specialization has lead to overuse injuries where we used to not see. Playing multiple sports will reduce the overuse stress placed on tissues as well as to help develop overall athletic skills instead of just those used in one sport. As the athlete develops, and the body matures, then the risk of the overuse and repetitive trauma decreases.Sports for young people can be fun, rewarding and safe with just some proper preparations. Do not shy away from having your child participate in sport to avoid the risk of injury. Take the precautions and preparations listed above so that your child can take full advantage of what sports can offer.

 To recap: 

  • Use the proper equipment and make sure that it is in good working order and fitted correctly.
  • Learn the fundamentals of the sport and get the correct training.
  • Perform a good dynamic warm up and proper cool down.
  • Maintain an adequate hydration level.
  • Do not be in a rush to specialize in one sport. Participate in a number of sports to acquire more all around athletic skills and reduce overuse and repetitive trauma.

 
 

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