Injury Prevention and the Youth Athlete
Youth sports are a great way to help keep kids active, learn the value of teamwork, and make new friends. It can be rewarding for both the athlete and family members. However, the increasingly competitive nature of sports these days has them starting at a younger age and training harder towards a particular sport all year long. This leaves the athlete susceptible to “overuse injuries”.
An overuse injury occurs when an athlete has too much stress placed on their body and not enough time to recover. Often times the recovery is prolonged and can lead to more long-term health and injury problems.
Chronic stress from prolonged injuries due to overtraining can lead to what is called “burnout”. Burnout is when a young athlete stops participating in a previously enjoyable sport or activity due to chronic pain, fatigue, and/or lack of enthusiasm.
So how can all of this be prevented? Well, there is no easy answer but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chance and severity of overuse injuries. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine has prevention guidelines and tips to help prevent these types of injuries:
- Limit weekly and yearly participation time, limit repetitive movements (eg pitching in baseball), and schedule rest periods. Consider taking a break from sport every 2-3 months and participate in a variety of sports and activities.
- Consider the physical and psychological stress of the sport, the athlete’s age and growth, and injury history.
- Participate in preseason conditioning programs.
- Careful monitoring of training workload including a combination of muscular strength, power, endurance, body control, stabilization, and flexibility.
- Include warm ups and cool downs.
- Teach athletes to listen to what their body is telling them. (“No Pain No Gain” is not always true).
- Correct fitting and sizing of equipment.
- Emphasize skill versus winning to prevent burnout.
- Prehab: A personalized exercise program for the athlete designed specifically to help prevent injuries associated with a sport.
What if the Athlete is Already Injured?
Unfortunately, injuries do happen in sports. If an injury occurs or is suspected, the athlete should first report to his primary care physician. The doctor can then recommend that the athlete participates in physical therapy. The physical therapist will first evaluate the athlete and take a thorough history of prior injury patterns. They will then address the underlying cause(s) of the injury and work with the athlete to recover and prevent future injuries. To develop the best strategies to recover from an existing injury and injury prevention, the athlete, parents, coaches, doctor, and therapist should all be involved and communicate together.
Today’s environment for young athletes is very challenging. There is a lot of pressure often from coaches, family, friends, and even the athletes themselves to perform successfully. This pressure can sometimes lead to overtraining and overuse injuries. Overuse injuries can progress to more serious conditions which prevent the athlete from playing their given sport. Taking the necessary steps to help prevent overuse injuries is very important to the young athlete’s health and longevity in their sport. However, should an injury occur, physical therapists are the experts in rehabilitation and injury prevention and are a great resource.