Health Matters: Youth sports -- how to keep kids safe and injury-free over the summer
As a father, physical therapist, strength and conditioning professional, and little league baseball coach, youth sports have a commanding interest in my day-to-day activities.
Through the summer and early fall, I see kids of all ages come into Outpatient Facilities at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center with injuries sustained through playing sports.
The injuries I see generally fall into two categories: injuries from overuse (such as shoulder injuries in baseball), and injuries from the patient being underprepared for the fall sports season. Luckily, many of these sports injuries can be avoided with careful preparation and safety precautions.
Whether it’s golf, baseball, soccer or biking, there are a couple different types of preparation for sports and practices that can keep your kid from coming to see me in physical therapy. The first is stretching: Stretching and warming up muscles before strenuous activity can increase flexibility and improve the range of motion in joints.
My son knows that if he doesn’t stretch before he goes out to play golf, he’s going to be in bad shape at the end of the round. By stretching, then warming up by practicing motions they’re going to use in their sport (such as practicing swinging the bat or a club), your child will greatly reduce his or her chance of injury.
Another way to arm your child in the fight against sports injuries is through strength and conditioning activities. Every time the middle or end of August comes around, we in OP receive a tremendous amount of kids that did nothing all summer, then went to practice and got shin splints or other injuries.
While exercising and getting outside during the summer has its obvious benefits, it can help cut down on sports injuries as well once fall sports start up. If a kid sits around all summer and then goes to soccer practice, for example, his or her legs and joints will not be ready for the running, jumping, and other aspects of the sport. There is a penalty to pay for unpreparedness.
If your kid’s an athlete, make sure they do some kind of training over the summer. Ask your child’s doctor or a sports medicine professional about age-appropriate strength and conditioning activities. I am not necessarily a proponent of 10-year-old boys pounding iron in the gym, but there are strengthening activities that can be done to improve strength and conditioning that can make a difference during those dog days of practice.
The bottom line is, the better shape your kid is in as he or she enters fall practices, the less suffering they will do and the less of a chance there is of them getting injured.
One last thing your child can do can help them stay healthy as well as excel in their sport: Learn the proper mechanics. As I often tell my patients and clients, form is everything. If you cannot do an exercise or perform an athletic move correctly, you are risking injury. If your child is serious about any sport, get him or her to a professional -- a little investment now may make all the difference in the future.
A short sacrifice now for a large difference in the future summarizes my points well. Stretching, strength and conditioning, and learning proper mechanics may sometimes be a burden, especially for young athletes who just want to get right to the game. However, by properly preparing your kids and instilling in them these ideas of self-preparation, they will have more fun and injury-free athletics seasons.
Mark Epler is a physical therapist at SVMC Physical Therapy. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. To learn more about the SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation, visit svhealthcare.org.
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