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injury prevention young athletes with Sheddon Physio Clinic Oakville

Preventing Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes

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

  1. 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);sports physiotherapy injury prevention
  2. Strengthening key muscles (i.e., core/hips, etc) to prevent imbalance;strengthening key muscle with Sheddon Physio Clinic Oakville
  3. 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;
  4. 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;landing stabilization with Sheddon Physio Clinic Oakville
  5. Careful monitoring of training workload, especially if the athlete is showing early signs of an injury;
  6. 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;
  7. Proper warm up: check out the FIFA 11 warm up program that has scientifically been proven to reduce injuries by 30-50%;
  8. 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.

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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.