For young athletes, sports activities are more than play. Participation in athletics improves physical fitness, coordination, and self-discipline, and gives children valuable opportunities to learn teamwork.
But what kids often don’t realise is how susceptible to sports injury they are and its our job as parents, coaches and mentors to protect them.
These kids are eager to compete and be strong and energetic but injuries hold them back from pursuing their passion whether its local netball, footy, tennis or pushing the representative boundaries.
As a consultant sports medicine podiatrist, I work across a number of facilities and like my colleagues who deal with other areas of the body. We consult more and more to the teenage and adolescent athlete. The vast majority of injuries we see are overuse injuries associated with the sports they love to play.
Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, the body not having time to rest between training sessions and competition. Two examples of sports that create high level stressors on growing bones are netball and tennis.
Both require repetitive jumping, pivoting, sudden stopping and fast explosive movements causing growth plate micro-trauma that eventually causes pain and discomfort. Running is another activity that with x3-4 times body weight causes the feet, shins, calves, shins and knees to absorb high loads. Hence the importance of doing some homework to ensure correct shoes for body type, body growth, and the sport played.
Implementing good, safe training practices with proper warm-up and warm-down procedures is vital. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough.
Then there’s the critical point of over-training. Kids are rapidly growing and over-training is detrimental to developing bones and muscles.
Kids love sport and we know how important sport is to them. I’d like to share some advice with you to fuel the passions of our kids.
Firstly, and very importantly children athletes ARE NOT mini-adult athletes. There is a terrific resource at American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons you should visit. I have captured the essence of the message here:
Active children are growing. Their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still immature, making them more susceptible to injury. In addition, there are significant differences in coordination, strength, and stamina between children and adults. Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage at the ends of long bones where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. A twisted ankle that might result in a sprain in an adult, could result in a more serious growth plate fracture in a young athlete. Growth plate injuries have the potential to disrupt the normal growth of bone.
While over-training is one aspect to be aware of, the other is footwear. Many injuries we see in our offices are linked to footwear. The two factors are poor choice in athletic shoes (wrong shoe for sport and wrong shoe for foot type) and wearing shoes too long.
Here are three ways you can help prevent injuries by simply keeping on top of shoe requirements for your kids.
- The training shoe myth: A common trend in sport is the use of very lightweight shoes for training. The expectation is that lighter shoes will increase speed. This is nonsense. For example regardless of the weight of shoes, a flat-foot needs supportive shoes and a high-arch foot requires cushioned shoes. Safety and injury prevention must come first before “trendy shoes”.
- The right fit shoe: Poor-fitting shoes compress the foot causing blisters, ingrown toenails and discomfort. Data from my clinics indicate approximately 50% of kids wear shoes too small or too long. While the conditions caused from poor-fitting shoes will likely not prevent participation, they may have the knock on effect of pain avoidance: where kids start to avoid placing structural weight on an injury, creating an imbalance and causing muscle injury in another location.
- Shoe rotations & replacement: It’s important to have 2-3 different shoes to rotate. This is more relevant during intensive training periods – such as playing sport more than 3 times a week. Shoes should also be replaced every 500-800 kilometres depending upon a child’s body weight.
Without a doubt, a major reason for overuse injury is wrong footwear due to the shoe being too old and thus either providing not enough support or cushioning. Check out Shoe Buddy distance calculator to determine how long shoes are viable for. The cushioning and structure of most athletic shoes deteriorates quicker than you think. Replacing shoes at least annually is important for children and adolescents.
Just like not all sports are the same, not all sports injuries are either. There’s far more I can say about injuries specific to each sport. I’ll go into detail about this more in future posts.
Lets keep our kids active, healthy and pain free by following simple sporting participation rules.
*Note: Image 1 courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net
*Note: Image 2 courtesy of photostock at freedigitalphotos.net