For children and young adults, participating in sports is a great way to learn the values of exercise, teamwork, winning and losing, and working hard toward your goals. Athletics can enrich young lives and prepare kids for a lifetime of healthy living. As adults – coaches and parents alike – it’s important to remember the roles we play in developing young athletes and keeping them free from injury. Medically speaking, kids are not just “little adults,” they are built differently and transition physically through growth stages, making them more susceptible to injury. The following list identifies some potential hazards for child athletes and ways we can help kids enjoy the benefits of sports while minimizing the risks of injury:
Mixing Size and Strength
Children grow at all different rates, so one age does not necessarily mean one size. Some 7-year-olds may develop upper-body strength more quickly for example, while others may see faster growth in their legs and feet. This means that discrepancies in agility, speed, strength, and overall size can be fairly wide, creating a volatile situation for young athletes. As adults, we can identify these differences and do our best to create match-ups that are safer and more even.
Growth Plate Vulnerability
Growth plates are areas of cartilage located near the ends of bones and are particularly vulnerable to fractures. They typically close or harden by age 21, so adults do not have to worry about injury to these areas. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that 15% to 30% of all childhood fractures are growth plate fractures. For these reasons, it is especially important for children to wear all forms of proper protective gear to minimize the risk of growth plate fractures.
Just because a child spends time in practice and games, it doesn’t mean he or she is going to want to play less at home or in school. Young muscles and bones can sometimes experience too much play time, resulting in potential overuse injuries. Coaches and parents should always stress the importance of warming up and training so that their young athletes’ bodies may be properly prepared for all activities.
Prevention measures are the best for avoiding injuries in children, and several factors can determine the right kind of preparation for each child. In general, young athletes should be in the right condition to participate in sports. A doctor can determine overall physical condition with a pre-sports physical, checking for flexibility, strength, and body capacity. It’s also important to know and abide by the safety rules and regulations of each individual sport, including all of the proper equipment and padding.
In general, exercise and training can be truly beneficial for children, but injuries at a young age can contribute to long-term problems. As long as parents and coaches understand the potential risks for injury and burnout, their little athletes will enjoy the positive growth and lifelong benefits of sports and competition.
For more information, contact Dr. Beth Dollinger, Orthopedic Surgeon at Arnot Health.