On any given weekend, every athletic venue around the country is blanketed with kids of all ages chasing soccer balls, throwing pitches, or shooting a basketball. The pools are filled with budding competitive swimmers and the gyms are at capacity with tiny tumblers.
Inevitably, during the week, sports medicine and physical therapy offices (including ours) are equally filled with the same children. The pediatric injuries that pile up across all sports are increasing, experts say, as more kids become serious about their athletic endeavors at earlier ages.
The most common problems that parents are up against aren’t usually the acute injuries like broken bones or concussions – although, unfortunately, those are also common – they are the kinds of injuries caused by using the same muscles, tendons, and ligaments over and over again.
You see, when growth plates are still open (because your child is still growing) they are the weak part of the system. Kids don’t necessarily get the sprains and strains, but they do get pain and inflammation where the growth plates are, like in the front of the knee or heel.
Short of bubble wrapping your children before they head to practice, there is a lot parents can do to protect them from injuries. Sports, after all, are good for kids!
Here are five ways to help your child stay active for the long haul:
1. Don’t specialize in one sport too early
Your child may exhibit exceptional talent for gymnastics or soccer, but concentrating on one activity too early in their lives will lead to the most common injuries, which are repetitive stress and overuse problems. Doing one sport can also student coordination and neurodevelopment because kids don’t have the opportunity to use multiple muscle groups in different ways.
When is it safe to pick one sport? After a child has reached puberty. If your little athlete can’t wait, parents should make sure their children get three months away from the sport each year. The break not only shields kids from getting hurt, but it also can prevent mental burnout. Now, if your child can wait longer, its better to wait as long as possible before specializing. It’s been shown that athletes of all levels can benefit from cross training with other sports.
2. Check out the coach and the program
Many youth programs are led by well-meaning parents who don’t necessarily have expertise in how to coach. Before registering a child for a particular team, ask around. Good coaches, who care about all the participants and give each child equal attention, usually get rave reviews. Typically children get hurt in programs that are focused mostly on winning over teaching the game and having fun. A big red flag is if a coach overplays the most-talented or strongest kids – seeing too much game time often results in injuries.
Kids can play in a park with their friends – with no adult around – from sun up to sundown and really not have any overuse injuries. Put a parent or coach in the mix directing them and that’s when they start to get hurt.
3. Demand rest and recovery time everyday
All bodies need time to adapt to the demands of training – especially bodies that are still growing. If you’re spending the weekend watching your children play in a five-game tournament, make sure they are drinking enough water, eating whole, nutritious meals and snacks between games, and getting enough sleep. If your kids are getting less than eight hours of sleep they have a 1.7 times greater risk of being injured. If they’re dehydrated, their muscles are 20% less strong. Rest and recovery matters.
4. Teach proper warm ups
One of the most common problems for growing athletes (especially girls) is ACL injuries (tears of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee), which can take a child out of the game for up to nine months – as well as increase the risk of arthritis later in life. The fix, however, is easy, and it goes for nearly every sport for boys and girls: make sure athletes are taking 10-15 minutes to properly warm up before practices. Starting any activity with cold muscles is a recipe for disaster, no matter what age.
5. Make sure your child is having fun
When a kid starts dragging her feet to get to practice or says he doesn’t feel well, start asking questions. This can be a typical warning sign that pressure is too high, the physical demands have become too much, or something doesn’t feel right. When a kid starts seeing a sport as a chore then their bodies start breaking down. You want to make sure kids want to do the sport, are invested in it, and are having fun.
Sometimes, injuries are inevitable. You can do everything right and still end up with an injury. When that happens, make sure your child is getting the correct treatment right away. Get in with a physical therapist who can help bring your child back to their original performance level in a shorter amount of time, without surgery or painkillers.
And if you want an in-depth assessment before your child gets hurt, come on in for an evaluation. We will use a specific test that looks at muscle interaction and performance, uncovering any side differences that might be there. This assessment can check if your child is at risk of overloads and injuries, relieve any tight muscles, prevent cramping and overstrain, and can even improve performance by teaching optimum power development and activation of their muscles. Feel free to give us a call if that’s something you’re interested in (561) 366-2435.