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Preventing overuse injuries in young athletes

By David Freidson | Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 12:00 am

It seems as if three-sport high school athletes are more rare now than they have ever been; single-sport athletes are much more common. To keep up with the competition, many sports demand year-round commitment from parents and our young athletes.

Not all sports lend themselves to year-round activity. Football, for example, is really only played in the fall. And I don't see many youth golfers playing year-round; nor do baseball players - the reason for both being weather. Wrestling is usually not done year-round either; not due to climate - rather due to lack of off-season avenues for competition.

The list of year-round sports is much longer: Hockey, tennis, basketball, figure skating, martial arts, swimming, running and volleyball are all sports where some of our youth play year-round.

Playing one sport year- round naturally will give the young athlete a better chance of success at the high school level and will increase their odds of playing in college - if they can remain injury free.

According to Safe Kids USA, half of all injuries sustained by middle school and high school students during sports are overuse injuries. More than 3.5 million kids under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year and high school athletes suffer 2 million injuries per year.

The best way to prevent overuse injuries is to make sure that young athletes are listening to their body and communicating with their parents when they are having pain. I treat a lot of young athletes and many times the parent is surprised with just how much pain their child is having when doing their sport, even though they are in my office because they know something is not right with their child.

As a parent, when your child says that they are having pain, you need to take this seriously and take your child to a health professional who treats athletes. It is not normal for a youngster to have pain.

The longer that the overuse condition is present, the harder it is for me and others who treat these types of conditions to get your athlete better. This means more treatments, which often means more trips to the rehab specialist and more money spent on healthcare.

Another way for your child to prevent overuse injuries is for them to be in a good strength and conditioning program. They are too young to lift weights, you say? I don't want my kid to get injured, you say?

Consider this: Playing one sport all year causes injuries whereas good strength and conditioning program prevents injuries. Playing one sport all year causes certain muscles to become overdeveloped than others and this muscular imbalance over time leads to overuse injuries.

On the other hand, a good strength-training program will work towards stretching to overdeveloped muscles, and to strengthen the entire body to restore the muscular balance in the body.

I feel strongly that any young athlete should be working with, if not every time, at least at first, a trainer who knows what they are doing.

How do you know that they know what they're doing? I wouldn't go by the size of their biceps, or what sports they played in college or high school. I would go by their certifications.

I am biased toward the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist that is offered through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. In order to even sit for the exam, candidates must be a senior, or hold bachelor's degree in an exercise specific college major, or hold a higher degree (physical therapist, athletic trainer, chiropractor, medical doctor, etc).

I know that a lot of high schools in the west metro have very qualified people helping with the strength training of the athletes, but I find that often the ratio of staff to students is not ideal and there may be one staff person for 30 to 60 kids in a weight room.

If your youngster has already learned proper form from a trainer, then they probably don't need as much monitoring. But they do if they are a beginner. I like the facilities that offer small group training that have a ratio of say four to eight athletes-to-student ratio.

If I see your youngster as a patient, I will go over some of the places that I refer athletes to and I will look into other facilities if you have one in mind that I haven't heard of.

David Freidson is a licensed chiropractor and works out of the Synergy Health & Rehabilitation office in Minnetonka. To learn more, visit www.synergyhealthmn.com or call 952-475-4080.

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