Participating in sport has not only been found to be beneficial for physical development in children and adolescents, but can also result in better academic performance such as; higher grade-point averages, higher graduation rates, fewer school absences, less discipline referrals, and increased success at university or college compared to non-athletes (McGuine, 2006). Involvement in sport is therefore important for a child to be well rounded and healthy.
Injury is one of the biggest obstacles in many young athletes’ future aspirations. Over 4 million sports or recreational injuries are sustained by school-aged children in the USA every year (Franklin & Weiss, 2012). Injury not only prevents children achieving their sporting goals, but can even create problems for athletes well into their adulthood if not treated properly. This article’s main aim is to give some basic guidelines to injury treatment, but even more importantly, to injury prevention.
Sports injuries are caused by a variety of different traumas, examples include traumatic injury, overuse syndromes, inflammation and pain. Traumatic injury is where the cause of an injury can be pinpointed (for example a hockey ball hitting someone on the leg). Overuse syndromes are difficult to diagnose and are a result of repetitive overloading (Perterson & Perterson, 2001).
When an injury occurs, always apply the “RICE” principle. This involves:
- R: rest. Stop activity immediately.
- I: ice. Place ice on injury to numb pain and reduce swelling.
- C: compression. Wrap injury in a bandage for support and to stop any bleeding.
- E: elevation. Lift injury to a position above the level of the heart, to reduce blood flow to the injury.
If dealing with open injuries, one must wear gloves for protection. Once you have completed RICE, get the athlete to a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
Understanding injury causes
Preventing injuries will obviously save many parents, coaches and athletes plenty of heartache and money, as we know prevention is better than treatment. In order to prevent injury we must understand the cause of it. It is found that young athletes are more susceptible to injuries caused by decreased balance and coordination. Inflexibility while bone growth outpaces that of the muscles and tendons is also a contributing factor to injury (Franklin & Weiss, 2012).
It has been documented that upper extremity injuries are on the rise, specifically in young athletes who participate in throwing sports such as cricket and baseball. The reason for these injuries is believed to be due to poor throwing techniques, lack of synchronization and coordination, bone and muscle immaturity, improper training intensity and high volumes of throws (Franklin & Weiss, 2012).
Hip injuries in young athletes are considered to be due to poor core stability and strength. Knee injuries are some of the most common injuries experienced by young athletes, with up to 250 000 patients rupturing their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) per year. Poor core stability, balance and muscle imbalances are believed to be the biggest contributor to knee injuries. Interestingly female athletes have been found to be at a higher risk for knee injuries than male athletes. This is thought to be due to the biomechanics at the knee, with females having larger hips due to wider pelvises than males, this can result in more unfavourable forces acting on the female knee (Franklin & Weiss, 2012).
Poor coaching is also a contributing factor to young athletes’ injuries. Coaches who utilize resistance training without the proper knowledge specific for children will not only put the child at risk of injury but at risk for improper growth development and possibly pain that will persist or even get worse during adulthood. Resistance training that involves improper technique, not enough rest, too high volume and too advanced exercises are the main contributors to injuries in this population (McGuine, 2006).
Addressing all these factors that can put young athletes at risk for injuries, is an important step to take towards prevention. For example: proper technique and supervision can reduce the incidence of sports injuries in children by up to three times compared to those who are not taught the proper technique (McGuine, 2006). Core strengthening and neuromuscular conditioning will be able to help prevent injuries from occurring throughout the body (Franklin & Weiss, 2012). Pilates is a good example of a preventative measure that young athletes can include in their training programmes to help strengthen their cores. It teaches you to train your body in neutral, which is the most ideal body alignment, and therefore working the muscles to their maximum, and it also involves a balance between strengthening muscles and stretching them. Therefore gaining strength as well as maintaining the muscles flexibility, thus allowing the joints to move efficiently and effectively through their full range of motion (Ellis, 2012).
Balance, proprioceptive and neuromuscular training can help prevent injury, more specifically in the lower body (McGuine, 2006)(Hubscher, Zech, Pfeifer, Hansel, Lutz, Banzer, 2009). One can improve these abilities by:
- standing on one leg with your eyes closed,
- standing on one leg throwing and catching a ball,
- balancing on unstable surfaces such as wobble boards, or
- trying to sit on big stability (Pilates) balls with your legs in the air and holding it for one minute.
One should also never neglect the obvious when it comes to preventing injuries. Ensuring that the athletes are wearing the correct protective gear and using the correct equipment will also greatly help reduce injuries (McGuine, 2006).
Ellis, C., How to use Pilates for sports injuries prevention. Online [available]: http://www.ehow.com/how_2305968_use-pilates-sports-injury-prevention.htm. Accessed date 2012/05/11
Franklin, C.C., Weiss, J.M. 2012. Stopping sports injuries in kids: an overview of the last year in publications. Current opinion in paediatrics 24.1: 64-67.
Hubscher, M., Zeck, A., Pfeifer, K., Hansel, F., Vogt, L., Banzer, W. 2010. Neuromuscular Training for Sports Injury Prevention: A Systematic Review. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. 42(3):413-21
McGuine, T., 2006. Sports injuries in high school athletes: A review of injury-risk and injury-prevention research. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 16(6):488-99.
Peterson, L., Peterson, P. 2001. Sports injuries: Their prevention and treatment. 3rd Edn Martin Dunitz, London. Pp. 1-3.