Understanding Teen’s Sports Injuries
By Sandy Timok, PT
Studies show that 50% of all boys and 25% of all girls between the ages of 8 and 16 compete in organized sports programs. These programs provide the obvious benefits of helping to foster a lifelong interest in health and physical fitness. They also provide many other benefits including helping children learn about self-discipline, competition and teamwork.
Unfortunately, injuries can accompany sports participation. Statistics show that 4 million children under the age of 15 are hurt each year with injuries that occur anywhere from the playground to sports teams.
Common Types of Sports Injuries
As they get older and stronger, teen athletes deliver more force when they hit or get hit so injuries are generally more severe than when they occur at a younger age. Macro-trauma refers to an acute fracture, dislocation, concussion or spinal cord injury.
Micro-trauma (overuse injury) occurs when a tissue is injured due to repetitive strain. With enough recovery time (rest), the tissue can adapt to the demand and is able to handle further strain. Without enough recovery time, however, micro-trauma develops and starts the body’s inflammatory response which damages the local tissues. Ongoing micro-trauma from continuing the activity causes the actual injury, which can lead to weakness, loss of flexibility, and recurring pain. Examples of this type of injury include shin splints or tendonitis.
Thirty to 50% of all pediatric sports injuries are due to overuse injuries. These can be as severe and harmful as acute injuries. They can also be more dangerous for pre-teens and teens because they can damage growth plates.
Growth plate injuries most often involve fractures in the long bones of fingers and arms, but can also affect the lower and upper leg. The growth center is ½ to 1” before the end of the bone, an area that is weaker than nearby ligaments and tendons, thus more easily injured. Growth plate injuries occur most often in 14-year-old boys and 11 and 12-year-old girls, which are ages of significant body growth. Their severity depends on the location and type of the injury and the child’s age (younger can be worse). Complications can include recurring pain, arthritis, deformity and growth problems. Injuries to the knees have greater risk of complication because nearby nerve and blood vessels can be damaged. Many professionals feel that every child with a wrist injury should be seen by a physician due to possible growth plate injuries.
Ankle sprains account for many of the injuries experienced by athletes. If these are not allowed to fully heal, continuing ankle problems may result. Ankle sprain, like many of the sports-related injuries mentioned above, should be treated with respect. Athletes should not return to sports until there is pain-free walking and running; no limp; a return of more than 90% strength; and the athlete can reach maximum speed while running and changing directions. A rehabilitation program led by a professional can help achieve these goals.
Many sports-related injuries can be avoided through conditioning and training. Additionally, child and teen athletes should never be allowed or expected to work through pain. They will often experience some discomfort as bones and muscles grow and as they practice new moves. This discomfort is usually short lived. The pain that recurs or persists needs attention.
When to Seek Professional Help
If an injury shows one of the following sports injury warning signs, the child should be seen by a professional:
- Joint Pain
- Tenderness over a specific spot
- Loss of motion in a joint
- Weakness as compared to the other side
- Numbness and/or tingling
Common Injuries in Sports
- Contact sports: acute injury, sprains/strains, growth plate injuries
- Non-contact sports: overuse injuries (often related to repetitive & extensive training)
- Limited contact sports: mixture of acute and overuse injuries
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