Keeping Young Athletes Injury-Free

Physical activity and sport are fundamental for child development. Unfortunately, engaging in sports is also the number one cause of injury in children. Research has shown that the majority of sports injuries in youth are in the 10-14 year-old age group, and males are more often at a higher risk. Soccer and hockey are the most popular sports across Canada, which may explain why they have consistently been shown to have the most injuries. It is estimated that 30% of school aged children will suffer a sports related injury each year, which will lead to a loss of time in sport, school and the unfortunate cost of treating the injury. As such, research efforts have focused on prevention programs targeted towards young athletes.

Why do Children get Injured?

  1. They are not fully developed and generally have muscle imbalances;
  2. Growing bodies are more vulnerable to stresses;
  3. Younger children are less coordinated and have slower reaction times;
  4. Many children do not have the complex motor skills required for certain sports;
  5. Children develop at different rates and there may be a drastic size difference in athletes playing at the same level;
  6. Higher demand for specialization in one sport early on.

Injury Prevention Strategies:

  • Proper warm up: check out the FIFA11 warm up program which has been shown to reduce injuries by 30-50%;
  • Play multiple sports in order to develop a broad range of fundamental motor skills;
  • Proper technique: a little league pitcher consistently pitching with poor technique will eventually lead to injury. Ensure that coaches and trainers are properly trained and teaching children proper form and technique;
  • Proper equipment: Protective equipment and sporting gear needs to fit properly to do its job;
  • Exercise Based Injury Prevention Programs: Current research on injury prevention in young athletes has focused on exercise based programs. The majority of injuries in sport occurs during cutting, landing, and quick changes in direction. Therefore, plyometric and proprioceptive exercises are the most beneficial in preventing injuries, since they train the body to perform these movements with perfect form. A systematic review of exercise-based injury prevention programs showed the following findings:
    • Girls benefited significantly more that boys;
    • Lower skilled athletes benefited significantly more than higher trained athletes;
    • They are beneficial if completed pre-season or in-season;
    • Resulted in an injury reduction of 46% across sports.

Take Home Message:

The most beneficial injury prevention strategy is exercise-based programs focusing on proprioception and plyometric drills. These exercise programs should be implemented across all youth sports in order to improve overall fitness, performance and prevention of injury.

Fridman et al., (2013). Epidemiology of sports related injuries in children and youth presenting to Canadian emergency departments from 2007-2010. BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation.

Rossler et al., (2014). Exercise-Based Iinjury Prevention in Child and Adolescent Sport: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 1733-1748.