I had planned to publish this post a month ago but took a break from writing because, like most parents, I was busy creating the magic of the holidays. It truly was a beautiful time even despite the weirdness of not being with our whole family. I am finally finding time to sit down and write this, ironically, on the day after my oldest child fractured his arm (both radius and ulna, ouch!) falling from our climbing hang board. We usually climb with pads underneath or a spotter, but in this moment, my son was unsupervised and his 8-year-old impulsive monkey brain decided it would be a good idea to jump to the hang board. Unfortunately, he did not get a very good grip and fell to the floor at an awkward angle.
As active parents, many of us have the goal of raising active children. We can’t protect our children from every bump, bruise, or even fracture (nor do I think that we should) but we can teach them how to reduce risk and take care of their bodies for a lifetime of adventure and fitness.
For this month’s article, I was able to connect with my colleagues at Tahoe Forest Hospital Sports Medicine Department who are even more passionate than me about youth sports injury prevention. Anna Aldridge, MS, LAT, ATC is the head Orthopedic Athletic Trainer and an Exercise Physiologist and Nina Winans, MD is a Sports Medicine Physician. Anna and Dr. Winans collaborated on the responses to my questions below. Although our interview was about youth, many of the tips here apply to all ages.
What are the top sports related injuries you see in our local youth population?
The injuries that are most commonly seen are dependent on sports. For running sports such as cross country and track, chronic injuries are seen frequently. Such injuries are: shin splints, plantar fasciitis, or patellar femoral pain syndrome. These are often caused by muscle imbalances, improper footwear, and so on. Sports that include jumping and upper body movements such as basketball and volleyball; the injuries that occur most often are acute ankles sprains and chronic shoulder impingement issues. Other sports such as soccer and football, concussions and knee injuries are seen quite frequently. Overall, knee injuries are much more common in youth girls, particularly ACL tears, often times related to weak hips. In youth boys, there have been a lot of hip flexor and groin strains. These are frequently due to a lack of mobility in the hips from gaining muscle mass rapidly, and not doing appropriate stretching following strength training.
What are some tips to prevent injury?
Proper warm-ups and cool-downs play a large role in injury prevention. Warming up before physical activity with dynamic stretching and cooling down afterwards with static stretching will help in injury prevention.
Hip and lower extremity strengthening would also help in preventing injuries. Weak hips and gluteus muscles can predispose youth athletes to a wide variety of injuries ranging from foot, knee, and hip issues to back injuries. Strengthening the lower extremity, with a focus on the hips and core, are a strong preventative measure for these types of injuries. Some of these exercises include: bridge, clam shells, side plank, bird dog, monster walks, and lateral walks.
I found the following videos from the Release Physical Therapy website on how to do the recommended exercises:
This article in Self magazine describes how to do bridge, side planks, monster walk, and lateral walk https://www.self.com/gallery/hip-exercises-all-runners-need-to-do.
What are your thoughts on youth sports burnout and early injury? How can parents prevent this?
Burnout is very real in athletes of all ages. A burnout is a response to the chronic stress and demands in a sport or activity without mental and physical recovery. When an athlete experiences a burnout, they will have a feeling of staleness, or general tiredness. Other signs and symptoms include: problems with concentration, changes in appetite, anxiety and sadness, restlessness. They also may act withdrawn or disconnected from others. The athlete will often become less inclined to take preventative measures for injuries, such as proper stretching and strengthening exercises. At this point an athlete is also at risk for chronic overuse injuries such as tendonitis/tendinosis, fasciitis, etc. If a parent suspects a burnout, the athlete should be seen by a physician for an evaluation. Being involved in different activities can help prevent burnout in a specific sport. Parents should also ensure that their child is taking 1-2 days to rest and recover away from the sport per week as well.
Do you have any recommendations for local outdoor or sports programs that you think are especially great?
There are many great programs in the area for youth athletes to be involved in. The important recommendation for youth athletes that parents should be aware of, is that to reduce risk of injury, involvement in multiple sports is essential. Even if an athlete has a one sport focus, getting involved in other recreational activities will help prevent injuries.
It was wonderful to catch up with Anna and Dr. Winans for this interview and a great reminder to me of the resources we have in our community. If you have an active youth athlete who needs injury care or a school sports physical OR you are looking for sports medicine care for yourself, the Tahoe Forest Hospital Sports Medicine department may be a great place to get that specialized care.
One of my main takeaways from this interview was to diversify my training so…while the snow is on the ground, maybe I will see some of you out on the ski trail. As always, happy trails … and happy parenting!