Tips For Helping Youth Athletes Avoid Injury

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Despite what appears to be over-saturation of sports, the rate of participation of youth in sports is seeing a decline. A study completed by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association examining trends from 2009-2014 found a decrease in participation from 50.2 to 45.7 million, or 9%, in youth aged 6-17. However, even with this noted decline, there does not seem to be a change in overall injury rates.

In a current discussion on the state of youth injuries at the 2016 American Physical Therapy Association Combined Section Meeting, the following statistics were discussed:

  • High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations per year.
  • More than 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
  • Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school athletes.

As a physical therapist, a coach of multiple sports, and a parent, these numbers are concerning to me. While injury prevention techniques are not an absolute guarantee against injury, they can decrease the overall risk to the athlete who employs a preventative philosophy/approach to their sport of choice and lifestyle. Here are several areas that may be crucial to injury prevention.

REST

Current research suggests kids age 6-12 should sleep nine to twelve hours per day, while kids ages 13-18 need to sleep eight to ten hours per day. Not getting enough sleep has been correlated with an increase in accidents, injury, poor concentration and poor decision making to name a few. The body also needs this down time to assist with healing injuries.

EQUIPMENT

Start from the ground up with appropriate footwear, socks and snug lacings to protect the key area for sports: locomotion. Blisters will limit mobility or even participation, so do not go cheap here by buying something they will grow into. Individual sports have individual needs for protective equipment; do your research for appropriate wear and care.

SURFACE

Avoid running or training on concrete. Coaches, make sure you are not warming up your players, in their cleats, on these types of surfaces. Concrete does not provide shock absorption and can contribute to overuse injury.

WARM UP

Research in this area has identified that a dynamic warm up is a much better program then the “old school” static stretching. A dynamic warm up can be tailored to any sport and is much better for getting the athlete prepared prior for competition. Studies have shown a static warm up may lead to decreased performance by comparison.

HYDRATION

A common guideline is to drink one cup of water every 20 minutes during practice. Weighing yourself before and after practice is a good way to gage hydration as a one pound loss is equivalent to approximately 24-ounces of fluid. Sports drinks should be considered when exercising at a high intensity for 60-90 minutes in order to replace electrolytes. Simply waiting to drink when you are thirsty is not adequate preparation.

NUTRITION

A great way to manage this with your kids is to look up caloric expenditures related to their sport, keep a daily food journal, and then compare the results. Without an appropriate caloric intake, the body will dip into its reserves which can effect muscle tissue and increase risk of injury.

ANATOMY

Individuals with “flat feet” or “knock knees” run a higher risk of injury. Having these athletes meet with a physical therapist (PT) is a great way to identify strength, weakness, flexibility issues, and poor technique with jumping, landing and running. Although a PT cannot change an individual’s anatomy, they can establish a program that attends to weak musculature, improved technique, and injury prevention.

PRE-SEASON CONDITIONING PROGRAM

Meeting with a PT or qualified fitness professional is a great idea for pre-competition training and an excellent way to learn about strength challenges commensurate with the intended sport.

None of these suggestions are a guarantee to avoid injury. However, decreasing the relative risk associated with competition is a goal that all athletes and their families should strive for.  

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Josh Green
About Josh Green

Josh Green is a physical therapist with 20 years’ experience. He enjoys working with athletes, particularly soccer players, on injury prevention and rehabilitation. He runs North State Soccer Academy and coaches two competitive teams.

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