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Child Development & Parenting:Adolescence (12-24)

Preventing Adolescent Sports-Related Injuries

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW

While participation in sports and other athletic activities is generally considered an enjoyable and healthy pursuit that promotes adolescents' physical, emotional, and social well-being, parents need to be informed about the training methods used by their children's coaches and trainers, and ensure their teens take certain precautions to prevent sports-related injuries. Preventing a sports injury is much easier, more comfortable, and less expensive than treating, correcting, and recovering from an injury that could affect the youth for a lifetime.

girl playing soccerAlthough parents and youth often discuss an athletic game, match, or event, parents should also encourage their youth to discuss their sport's practices. Not only does this communicate parents' support and interest in their children's lives but it provides a means for parents to monitor the training methods of coaches and trainers. If parents have any questions about the safety or appropriateness of a particular training method or technique they can respectfully discuss these concerns with the coaches or trainers, or they may wish to consult with their child's physician or a sports medicine professional. Adolescent youth (particularly boys) often become embarrassed by this type of parental involvement and concern so parents may ask the coach to keep their consultation private. Parents also need to be informed about the protocol that is followed when a player becomes injured. How is an injury handled? If treatment is provided, who is providing the treatment, what are their qualifications, and who pays for the treatment? Most coaches are keenly interested in preserving the health, safety, and well-being of their young athletes. However, sometimes the desire to win or to appear "tough" can diminish a coach's usual good judgment. Parents should remain alert to this possibility and take action when necessary to ensure their children's participation in sports remains safe and rewarding.

In training, practices, and games, youth should be encouraged to warm-up adequately, and to take time to gently and gradually stretch muscles to prevent injury. When people gradually warm-up prior to physical exertion, the muscles and connective tissue become more flexible and pliable, and therefore less likely to tear or to strain during a sudden motion. The repetitive movement of some sports (such as one arm repeatedly pitching a baseball, or swinging a tennis racket), can strengthen some muscles and while leaving other less-utilized muscles under-developed. This uneven muscular development can result in a muscular-skeletal instability and can lead to particular type of injury called an over-use injury. Over-use injuries can be just as harmful as sports-related injuries that result from accidents or excessive physical contact, and can have life-long consequences as well.

Parents and coaches should also make sure to take precautions to prevent over-use injuries in teen athletes. As a precaution, adolescents should have at least one day a week off during the active sports season and at least two months a year off from the same competitive sport with an active practice and competition schedule. Likewise, youth should spend no more than 12 hours a week playing or training in any one sport and no more than 20 hours a week combined training and playing multiple competitive sports or activities. Proper physical conditioning that emphasizes balanced muscular strength is also essential to reduce the risk of over-use injuries.

Coaches, trainers, and parents should insist youth always wear all the protective gear recommended for each sport, during both practice and competitive play. The pads, helmets, mouth guards, and other devices were created to reduce the risk of serious injuries. Youth should also learn the proper techniques and correct motion for each athletic skill whether it is twirling, jumping, lifting, turning, throwing, catching, tackling, blocking, etc. Using proper techniques encourage safer, supported movement; limits unnecessary collisions; and reduces sport-related injuries. If teens and youth are injured in a game or practice, parents need to make sure that the youth, coach, and doctor take the injury seriously. Many youth feel pressure to "tough it out" or to "walk it off," by ignoring the pain or an impediment from an injury. Youth, parents, and coaches need to heed the body's warning signs that indicate something is wrong. These signs include pain, unusual sounds emanating from a particular location in the body (e.g. clicking or squeaking joints), numbness, tingling, fatigue, weakness, nausea, headaches, double-vision, confusion, or other changes in functioning. Youth should not be permitted to play after an injury until a medical professional has completed a thorough medical exam. Youth should not resume a sport until they receive medical clearance that it is safe to do so, and only after receiving the prescribed rest and/or treatment.

All head injuries should be taken very seriously, no matter how minor the injury may seem at first. Head injuries can cause concussions. A concussion is an injury to the brain that results when the soft brain tissue is forcefully pressed against the hard skull. This happens during sudden impact (such as when a head is slammed into a wrestling mat), but can also occur by the head being jostled about (as can occur during contact sports such as football or ice hockey). Youth may experience a concussion and not be aware of this because the symptoms may not occur immediately or they may appear mild (such as a mild headache or a brief moment of disorientation). It is important to note that many concussions occur without a loss of consciousness. However, despite the lack of apparent symptoms, concussions are still very serious. For many years coaches, and even doctors, have underestimated the lasting damage that can occur from seemingly "mild" concussions. Multiple concussions over time can cause lasting cognitive, emotional, and physical damage that may interfere with a youths' ability to receive an education, maintain a job, and may even impact their ability to enjoy rewarding relationships with others. Furthermore, if a youth experiences two concussions within a short amount of time, the resulting brain injury may be fatal.

With proper precautions sports can be a wonderful way for youth to participate in healthy physical exercise, and can provide rewarding social experiences as well. However, parents, trainers, and coaches need to prioritize safe training methods; ensure skills are learned using proper technique; ensure adequate rest periods; use proper safety equipment and gear, and avoid minimizing sport-related injuries, particularly head injuries. These actions will ensure youth can continue to enjoy sports and remain physically fit well into adulthood.

 

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