Youth sport has changed drastically in the past 20 years. Seasons are longer and youth are spending more time on a weekly basis practicing and competing. While this trend has been shown to increase skill development, it doesn’t come without a price. Research has shown that these athletes are also at an increased risk of overuse and repetitive strain injuries. The most at risk are those aged from 13-15 years old, most likely due to growth spurts and increased demands of sport. How can you make sure your young athletes can continue to train during this stage of development without suffering from injury?
What is an overuse injury?
Overuse injuries account for 50% of all adolescent sports injuries. They occur as a result of repetitive microtrauma to muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones, without sufficient time for the body to heal and recover.
Why are young athletes at risk?
- Growing bones are more vulnerable to stresses;
- “Adolescent Awkardness”, whereby an adolescent’s bones and muscles grow at different rates. This puts a lot of stress on the muscle-tendon junctions, bone-tendon junctions, ligaments and growth cartilage creating an imbalance in strength, flexibility and coordination;
- Poor conditioning;
- Increased training volumes and intensities with lack of recovery;
- Increased pressure and expectations from coaches, trainers and parents to play through pain and discomfort.
Injury Prevention Strategies
- Focus on flexibility and keeping the muscles at an optimal length as the bones grow, with particular focus on the hamstrings, quadriceps and lower back (which have all been shown to be excessively tight during the adolescent growth spurt);
- Strengthening key muscles (i.e., core/hips, etc) to prevent imbalance;
- Exercises focusing on neuromuscular control, proprioception and postural stability are extremely important for all athletes, but especially girls who are going through puberty as ligaments tend to weaken during this stage;
- Specific focus on landing stabilization (jump/hop and hold) and proper technique in landing, cutting and jumping, since these are the main mechanisms of injury;
- Careful monitoring of training workload, especially if the athlete is showing early signs of an injury;
- Play a variety of different sports. Playing a different sport has a 61% decreased risk of injury, while specializing in only one sport actually has an increased risk of injury;
- Proper warm up: check out the FIFA 11 warm up program that has scientifically been proven to reduce injuries by 30-50%;
- Exercises for injury prevention should be implemented across all youth sports and physical activity in order to improve overall fitness and performance. Although it will take away from regular practice time, the long-term benefits far outweigh the risk of injury.
If you are the parent, coach, or trainer of a young athlete be proactive and chat with one of the therapists at Sheddon on injury prevention strategies.