When I was a child there were very few serious injuries that affected myself or the athletes I competed against. As a child that was heavily involved in various sports I never saw any or heard of anyone with these types of injuries. Now, however, as a PE teacher I am seeing more children presenting with injuries that are long lasting and at times sport ending. Unfortunately there has been a significant increase in both short and long term injuries to children, (by children I mean over the age of 10), participating and competing in sport (Shanmagum & Maffuli). I’m referring to injuries such as growth plate injuries, shin splints, osgood-schlatters disease, ACL tears, rotator cuff tears, stress fractures and severs disease that seem to plague more and more children and at a younger age. Without going into scientific terminology and boring you with the intricate details of growing bodies, teenagers, while going through their growth stages, are more susceptible to injuries due to imbalance in strength and flexibility and changes in the biomechanical properties of bone (Shanmagum & Maffuli). This basically means that excessively overloading the body can create strains and breaks. Many of the injuries that I mentioned above occur from repetitive loading on the joints, muscles and bones and from continuous pressure and overuse of the muscles and joints. Basically occurring from too much sport.
What happens to young children who face these long term injuries? What are their outcomes and likelihood of ever recovering completely? Are we as parents pushing too much sport onto our children and not allowing the recovery and down time that their young, growing bodies require? As a parent of children who participate in a variety of sports I know that telling my 9 year old who loves competing to rest for 4-6 weeks can be a difficult task. I get it! Our children love sports as much as what we do, but I don’t believe that we are helping them in the long term to understand the mechanics of their bodies and the impact sport has on their growing joints, bones and muscles by allowing them to compete with an injury. PAIN IS NOT GAIN! Pain is an indication something is wrong and in my opinion if something hurts then the body is telling the athlete to stop. We are the parents, we drive them to events, we pay for them to compete. We have an obligation to ensure that our children are understanding the whole long term concept of sport rather than the short term goals.I would rather see my children breaking records at 16 than at 9 if it means ensuring their bodies are strong and healthy. This means having longevity in a sport rather than breaking down their bodies at a young age and causing sport ending injuries. Am I saying that our children and teenagers shouldn’t be doing sport because of injuries? Absolutely not. There is the whole other issue of obesity that prevents me from ever discouraging our youth to participate in physical activity. I think sport is a wonderful social activity to be involved in. I guess the point I’m making is that the increase in injuries is occurring due to the large volume of sport that children are participating in. Possibly the lack of awareness, properly trained coaches and parental pushing contributes to the issue as well. I would like to make the point as a parent, coach and teacher that I am probably guilty of having my own children involved in a variety of sports. However, I have a very good understanding of the growing body. My children train under coaches that are excellent in understanding that when my children are sick and injured that they do not come to training. I believe that we as parents need to remember that our children are growing and to ensure that their bodies remain strong and healthy that we need to allow our children to REST. By this I mean Relax, Enjoy time off, Settle any injuries and Take the injury to be checked early.
Here is a short list that I have compiled that may help to prevent some of those injuries I discussed before they occur:
- Warm up – dynamic stretching is the most beneficial. This involves moving the body through a range of comfortable motions. This creates a functional range of motion and mobility. At Mudgeeraba Little Athletics we have a warm up first thing in the morning before athletes compete which involves a light jog around the track stopping every 100 meters to do some dynamic stretches.
- I’m a big believer in cross training. This means not continuing with just one sport that does repetitive actions and training. Repetitive training can lead to injuries in specific parts of the body so allow young athletes to build strength, flexibility and skill in a variety of ways.
- Ensure the sport that the child is participating in is age appropriate, is supervised and is targeted to their ability level.
- Continue to ensure that children are hydrating properly while participating. Children produce more heat relative to their body mass and have low sweating capacity so dehydration and heat exhaustion in hot conditions makes younger athletes more prone to injury.
- Ensure the correct footwear is being worn. There are many ‘flashy’ shoes and big name brands that claim their shoes are the best. Seek out professional advice from a podiatrist if you want to ensure the right footwear for the right activity.
- Don’t participate if the child is complaining about pain. Seek out advice from an exercise physiologist.