As young athletes return to training and games, so is the chances of injury.
Athletes and their parents should be proactive in preventing and lessening the damage of physical activity before or during training or games, according to Dr. Eric Warren M.D., a sports medicine physician at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute. In a recent media availability, Warren discussed the importance of injury prevention as young athletes return to organized sports as COVID-19 restrictions lift.
Answers are condensed for brevity and clarity.
Q: What are common sports-related injuries you see with youth athletes?
EW: “Probably the most common injury would be ankle sprains. Those are incredibly common across all types of sports, whether it’s soccer, basketball, football, but in large part to what we see is sport-dependent so in baseball, with the throwing arm we’ll see shoulder and elbow related injuries. In track and field, which we’re in season right now … will see a lot of hip injuries. Our soccer athletes will have lower body injuries, sometimes concussion and head injuries. It really somewhat depends upon the sport as well.
Q: Are there certain sports that kids should avoid or limit to reduce the risk of injuries?
EW: “I think the data is becoming clear that for football, for example, before the age of 12 maybe before the age of 14 depending on who you talk to, repetitive head injuries aren't great. We know the neck muscles aren’t strong enough yet to maybe handle that burden in that load, so repetitive head injuries and contact. Otherwise, for most all sports and activities, those are things that kids can participate in the biggest thing though is they need variety. They don’t need to specialize especially before age 12.”
Q: Is there a difference in how you treat sports injuries for youth versus adults?
EW: “Kids are not little adults. They have their own unique physiology. One of the biggest things will be related to growth plates. In adults, our growth plates are closed and fused. We’re no longer lengthening our bones and growing in height, but with kids, they are.
“… If an adult you have shoulder pain … and it hurts when you do certain movements, it could be rotator cuff tendinitis, it could be bursitis, it could be maybe some arthritis or impingement. In kids, though, what we really worry about is that the bone itself the growth plate … is what’s inflamed and irritated, and that takes longer to get better than a simple tendonitis or bursitis. And so, we have to be mindful that their bodies and their physiology is a little bit different than adults and a huge part of that is growth plates.”
Q: And what are some signs or symptoms of sports injuries that parents should look out for?
EW: “The biggest thing I say is that kids should not have bony pain, so they have bone pain or joint pain that persists after a practice or game, especially if it’s still there the next day, they need to be evaluated. Kids can get stress fractures just like adults can, so if you have bone pain that’s appearing only with practices or games and it goes right away, but it keeps coming back with exercise and activity, especially in weight bearing bones, like the lower leg, then they should be evaluated because they could have a stress fracture. Bone pain is a big thing that’s something that I tell parents they need to be on the lookout for and kids need to communicate to what they’re feeling.”
Q: Would you encourage parents to get their children physicals, or a checkup before they get back into sporting activities?
EW: “Absolutely I would. A good reason for that is that some kids have been out of sports long enough they become a little deconditioned, and so they need to know what they physically can do and how quickly they can jump into something. We know we’re going into our hot summer months, for example, and for kids to go from being sedentary inside, virtual schools and playing video games, right into full blown activity outside their bodies actually haven’t acclimated and that’s when we see heat illness, particularly the first two weeks of August each year. That's a huge time of year that we see heat illness in the South.”
Q: Because COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, is there anything else that parents should know to keep their kids healthy, safe and active year-round?
“Any athlete, but especially growing and developing athletes, they’re not robots, so we can’t just take these seasons that we expect to have over the course of a school year, over the course of a year and cram them all into one short time period, because we need to accomplish them or complete them. I say that because we’ve seen a number of overuse injuries in a surprising way because there are multiple teams trying to wrap up multiple seasons that are all being compressed together. The body does need a chance to heal, it does need rest.”