How fantastic is it to see young kids and teenagers return to the sporting arena after a heavily interrupted couple of years? Rates of participation in team and individual sports for this demographic have gone through the roof in Australia, which is great to know that our kids are getting healthy and moving.
The only downside is that we are starting to see some more young athletes coming into the clinic presenting with a variety of overuse injuries.
Some of the main reasons as to why injuries occur frequently in young athletes include their physiological differences to adults, the demands of their sport/s, and their coordination and movement control. Let’s have a look at these in some detail:
Physiological differences between young athletes and adults
It’s important to remember that children are not ‘small adults’ when it comes to their physiological capabilities. As such, we need to slightly modify our expectations and knowledge of sport preparation when it comes to their injuries.
Children and adolescents are still developing physically, but this growth and maturation doesn’t all happen evenly. Differing growth rates between bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments can lead to imbalances in the forces generated on the body’s tissues compared to what we see in adults.
The fast growth rate of bones, for example, can lead to strain placed on ligaments and tendons which are ‘lagging’ in growth and haven’t formed the capacity to deal with that load, making them inflexible and weak. This leaves the young athlete much more susceptible to injury, especially overuse injuries such as Osgood Schlatters and Sever’s disease.
Furthermore, adolescents generate more metabolic heat than their adult counterparts, and are less efficient at dissipating it. When combined with physical activity this can quickly lead to dehydration and fatigue, further increasing risk of injury.
Demands of adolescent sport
The demands of sport on our young athletes is growing more and more each year. We are not only expecting them to compete at higher and higher levels in their chosen sport, but we are also expecting them to be playing 2, 3 or even 4 different sports throughout a given week. It is not uncommon for active kids to have a different activity (or two!) on for every day of the week. When combining these extra-curricular activities with sports and physical education classes there is a lot of activity in a week!
Overuse injuries commonly occur in young athletes who don’t get adequate rest between their activities. This not only means a rest day or two throughout the week, but also at the end of seasons of competition. Many sports have back-to-back seasons which means the athletes are competing hard all year round. Not resting between seasons can increase the risk of injury particularly with sports which involve running and jumping.
Biomechanics and coordination
Another reason for injuries in the young sporting population is the reduced ability to coordinate movements, particularly of their limbs.
Neuromuscular and motor control systems also develop and mature as we move through puberty and into teenage years, and the rapidly changing tissue structure of young bodies makes this a slow development. The subsequent lack of coordinated movements often leave a young athlete much more susceptible to traumatic and contact injuries.
The limited motor control can also lead to excessive load placed on different structures of the body (especially the knee and ankle) which can lead to ongoing complaints if not addressed properly.
Injury prevention tips
- Engage in an adequate warm up before activities, especially those which include running and jumping
- Drink plenty of water and fluids before, during and after competition to avoid dehydration and fatigue.
- Consider balance and resistance-based exercises to help motor control, conditioning and coordination. Make them specific to your sport or activity.
- Listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to take a day or two off if your body is feeling sore or you are feeling tired and sluggish.
- Avoid competing (training or match) when in pain
- Sleep is crucial in the restoration of your body’s tissues, and young athletes need more of it! A proper night’s sleep can be the difference between a niggle settling or becoming an injury.
If you (or your teenager) haven’t been able to get on top of an injury with the above advice, we are always open to chatting about the issue on the phone or via a face-to-face appointment.
Written by Total Balance Osteopath, Dr. Dan East.
If you would like to know more please get in touch with us here.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.