Getting student-athletes ready for sports
Keep local children and teens healthy and active by preventing injuries
The past few months have been trying times for athletes across the country, from Little League players to elite professional athletes. COVID-19 put a hold on competitive sports, leaving many athletes with one of two choices: to take a break, or to use their newfound personal time to get in some extra training.
With the promise of a start to the local youth sports season, it’s important for student-athletes of all ages and abilities to prevent injury, whether they’re ramping up their physical activity again or want to safely continue training without worry of overuse-related injuries. Nothing ruins a season more than an unexpected injury, so it’s important to teach kids how much to test their limits before they get hurt.
It’s also important for athletes to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, including social distancing and wearing a mask when required, to mitigate risk of spreading the virus and to prevent another round of sports season cancellations.
In the case that a student-athlete does get injured, Memorial Regional Health provides top-notch orthopaedic care, with help from the Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute (SOSI). Orthopaedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists work to get the region’s young athletes back to enjoying their sports and activities of choice after injuries occur.
Children and teens are often playing their sport while their bodies are still physically developing. The most common injuries seen in local student-athletes are from overuse, according to Dr. Alex Meininger, an MRH visiting orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist from SOSI. An overuse injury gradually occurs over time and affects muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
These days, young athletes are often committed to only one sport, and they play that sport year-round. Elite student-athletes especially push their bodies to the fullest extent with travel leagues, sports camps, national competitions and more.
“The youth skeleton wasn’t built for that level of strain,” Dr. Meininger said. “We’re seeing more new injuries related to overuse; for example, in football and baseball, many arm or elbow injuries are due to excessive overhead or repetitive throwing.”
Acute injuries, which are caused by sudden trauma like a collision, are also common in young athletes.
Pre-participation sports physicals for young athletes are a very important part of injury prevention. During these physicals, providers can recognize any sports injury tendencies or weaknesses that children or teens may have.
Student-athletes should also have a comprehensive training approach. Dr. Meininger recommends their training schedules include aerobic conditioning, strength training, and most importantly, rest.
“Forced rest is one of the hardest things for some athletes to do,” Dr. Meininger said. “The point is to not contribute to an overuse injury or something that will set the athlete back in terms of their fitness. The body needs time to recover, rest and rebuild, whether they’re a recreational athlete or at the professional level.”
If a student-athlete is starting to feel pain from overuse, it’s important to work with a professional sports medicine specialist or physical therapist to avoid pain. This is usually accomplished through activity modification and appropriate cross training.
“Kids are in sports for the fun, the comradery and the chance to prove and test themselves to their highest ability,” Dr. Meininger said. “From a leadership perspective — the medicine team staff, coaches, parents — the goal should be to always keep it fun. If it becomes too regimented, formal or exhausting, we’re doing a disservice to the kids.”
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