sports injury prevention

High School Sports Injuries

High School Sports Injuries

Every year, millions of teenagers participate in high school sports. An injury to a high school athlete can be a significant disappointment for the teen, the family, and the coaches. The pressure to play can lead to decisions that may lead to additional injury with long-term effects. High school sports injuries can cause problems that require surgery as an adult, and may lead to arthritis later in life.

When a sports injury occurs, it is important to quickly seek proper treatment. To ensure the best possible recovery, athletes, coaches, and parents must follow safe guidelines for returning to the game.

The Adolescent Athlete

Teenage athletes are injured at about the same rate as professional athletes, but injuries that affect high school athletes are often different from those that affect adult athletes. This is largely because high school athletes are often still growing.

Growth is generally uneven: Bones grow first, which pulls at tight muscles and tendons. This uneven growth pattern makes younger athletes more susceptible to muscle, tendon, and growth plate injuries.

Types of High School Sports Injuries

Injuries among young athletes fall into two basic categories: overuse injuries and acute injuries. Both types include injuries to the soft tissues (muscles and ligaments) and bones.

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries are caused by a sudden trauma. Examples of trauma include collisions with obstacles on the field or between players. Common acute injuries among young athletes include contusions (bruises), sprains (a partial or complete tear of a ligament), strains (a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon), and fractures.

A twisting force to the lower leg or foot is a common cause of ankle fractures, as well as ligament injuries (sprains).
Reproduced and modified with permission from The Body Almanac. © American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2003.

Overuse Injuries

Not all injuries are caused by a single, sudden twist, fall, or collision. Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often, parts of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing.

Overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates. For example, overhand pitching in baseball can be associated with injuries to the elbow. Swimming is often associated with injuries to the shoulder. Gymnastics and cheerleading are two common activities associated with injuries to the wrist and elbow.

Stress fractures are another common overuse injury in young athletes. Bone is in a constant state of turnover—a process called remodeling. New bone develops and replaces older bone. If an athlete’s activity is too great, the breakdown of older bone occurs rapidly, and the body cannot make new bone fast enough to replace it. As a result, the bone is weakened and stress fractures can occur—most often in the shinbone and bones of the feet.

Catastrophic Sports Injuries

Many sports, especially contact sports, have inherent dangers that put young athletes at special risk for severe injuries. Even with rigorous training and proper safety equipment, children are at risk for severe injuries to the head and neck with damage to the brain or spinal cord.

Catastrophic injuries have been reported in a wide range of sports, including ice hockey, wrestling, football, swimming, soccer, pole vaulting, cheerleading, and gymnastics. It is important for coaches, parents, and athletes to be aware of the guidelines and regulations developed for each sport to prevent head and neck injury.

Concussion

Concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries. They are caused by a blow to the head or body that results in the brain moving rapidly back and forth inside the skull.

Although some sports have higher instances of concussion—such as football, ice hockey, and soccer—concussions can happen in any sport or recreational activity.

In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that young athletes with concussions be evaluated and cleared by a doctor before returning to sports. The American Academy of Neurology issued a similar statement, and stressed that doctors who clear athletes for return to sports should be trained in managing and assessing sports concussions.

Growth Plate Injuries

Growth plates are areas of developing cartilage tissue near the ends of long bones. When a child becomes full-grown, the growth plates harden into solid bone.

Because growth plates are the last portion of bones to harden (ossify), they are vulnerable to fracture. Growth plates regulate and help determine the length and shape of adult bone, therefore, injuries to the growth plate can result in disturbances to bone growth and bone deformity.

Growth plate injuries occur most often in contact sports like football or basketball and in high impact sports like gymnastics.

Prompt Medical Attention

Whether an injury is acute or due to overuse, a high school athlete who develops a symptom that persists or that affects his or her athletic performance should be examined by a doctor. Untreated injuries could lead to permanent damage or disability.

Some athletes may downplay their symptoms in order to continue playing. Coaches and parents should be aware of the more common signs of injury, such as pain with activity, changes in form or technique, pain at night, and decreased interest in practice.

Doctor Examination

During the examination, the doctor will ask about how the injury occurred, the symptoms, and will discuss the athlete’s medical history. During the physician examination, the doctor will look for points of tenderness, as well as range of motion.

If necessary, the doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as x-rays or other tests, to evaluate the bones and soft tissues.

Treatment

Treatment will depend upon the severity of the injury, and may include a combination of physical therapy, strengthening exercises, and bracing. More serious injuries may require surgery.

Return to Play

A player’s injury must be completely healed before he or she returns to sports activity.

  • In case of a joint problem, the player must have no pain, no swelling, full range of motion, and normal strength.
  • In case of concussion, the player must have no symptoms at rest or with exercise, and should be cleared by the appropriate medical provider.

Media stories about the early return to competition by professional athletes following injury create the impression that any athlete with proper treatment can return to play at the same ability level, or even better.

It is important for players, parents, and coaches to understand that depending on the type of injury and treatment required, the young athlete may not be able to return to the game at the same level of play—no matter how much effort is put into injury rehabilitation.

Prevention

Many high school sports injuries can be prevented through proper conditioning, training, and equipment.

High school athletes require sport specific training to prevent injury. Many injuries can be prevented with regular conditioning that begins prior to the formal sports season. Injuries often occur when athletes suddenly increase the duration, intensity, or frequency of their activity. Young athletes who are out of shape at the start of the season should gradually increase activity levels and slowly build back up to a higher fitness level.

Using proper technique for the position being played is also key to preventing injury. Proper equipment—from the right shoes to safety gear—is essential. In addition, injuries can be prevented when athletes understand and follow the rules of the game, and display good sportsmanship.

Because many young athletes are focusing on just one sport and are training year-round, doctors are seeing an increase in overuse injuries. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has partnered with STOP Sports Injuries to help educate parents, coaches, and athletes about how to prevent overuse injuries. Specific tips to prevent overuse injuries include:

  • Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing in one season. Athletes who play on more than one team are especially at risk for overuse injuries.
  • Do not allow your child to play one sport year-round—taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention.
Last reviewed: August 2012
Reviewed by members of POSNA (Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America)

The Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) is a group of board eligible/board certified orthopaedic surgeons who have specialized training in the care of children’s musculoskeletal health. One of our goals is to continue to be the authoritative source for patients and families on children’s orthopaedic conditions. Our Public Education and Media Relations Committee works with the AAOS to develop, review, and update the pediatric topics within OrthoInfo, so we ensure that patients, families and other healthcare professionals have the latest information and practice guidelines at the click of a link.
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS “Find an Orthopaedist” program on this website.

A Guide to Safety for Young Athletes

 

A Guide to Safety for Young Athletes

For young athletes, sports activities are more than play. Participation in athletics improves physical fitness, coordination, and self-discipline, and gives children valuable opportunities to learn teamwork

Because young athletes are still growing, they are at a greater risk for injury than adults. The consequences of overdoing a sport can include injuries that impair growth, and may lead to long-term health problems.

Fortunately, many youth sports injuries can be prevented. Some of the more effective ways to prevent these injuries include age-specific coaching, appropriate physical conditioning, and proper use of equipment.

In addition, coaches and parents can prevent injuries by fostering an atmosphere of healthy competition that emphasizes confidence, cooperation, and a positive self-image, rather than just winning.

Differences Between Child and Adult Athletes

Children Are Still Growing

The young athlete is not a smaller version of an adult. Children’s bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are still growing, making them more susceptible to injury. In addition, there are significant differences in coordination, strength, and stamina between children and adults.

Children Vary in Size and Maturity

Young athletes of the same age can differ greatly in size and physical maturity. Grade school students are less likely to experience severe injuries during athletic activities because they are smaller and slower than older athletes. High school athletes, however, are bigger, faster, stronger, and capable of delivering tremendous forces in contact sports.

Children Can Injure Growth Plates

Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage at the ends of long bones where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. A twisted ankle that might result in a sprain in an adult, could result in a more serious growth plate fracture in a young athlete. Growth plate injuries have the potential to disrupt the normal growth of bone.

Common Youth Sports Injurie

Acute Injuries

Acute sports injuries are caused by a sudden trauma, such as a twist, fall, or collision. Common acute injuries include broken bones, sprains (ligament injuries), strains (muscle and tendon injuries), and cuts or bruises.

Most acute injuries should be evaluated by a doctor. Prompt first aid treatment should be provided by coaches and parents when the injury occurs. This usually consists of the RICE method: rest, applying ice, wrapping with elastic bandages (compression), and elevating the injured arm, hand, leg, or foot. This usually limits discomfort and reduces healing time. Proper first aid will minimize swelling and help the doctor establish an accurate diagnosis.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often, parts of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing. Examples of overuse injuries include throwing injuries in the elbow, Achilles tendinitis, and shin splints.

Coaches may have more difficulty spotting less severe problems, however, because the pain is low grade and the athlete often ignores it. Repeat injuries may turn into overuse conditions, which can put the athlete on the sidelines for the rest of the season.

To keep athletes in the game long-term, overuse injuries need to be diagnosed and treated by a physician as soon as possible. Parents and coaches should be aware of the more common signs of overuse injury. These include:

  • Pain. This pain cannot be tied to an acute injury, such as from a fall. The pain often increases with activity
  • Swelling
  • Changes in form or technique
  • Decreased interest in practice

In the growing athlete’s musculoskeletal system, pain from repetitive motion may appear somewhere besides the actual site of the injury. For instance, a knee ache in a child or adolescent may actually be pain caused by an injury to the hip.

Whether an injury is acute or due to overuse, a child who develops a symptom that persists or that affects his or her athletic performance should be examined by a doctor. A child should never be allowed to “work through the pain.”

Strategies for Preventing Youth Sports Injuries

There are several strategies that coaches, parents, and athletes can follow to help prevent sports injuries. Most importantly, athletes should:

Proper protective gear for a baseball catcher.

  • Be in proper physical condition to play a sport (a pre-participation sports physical examinations can be very useful in screening for potential problems)
  • Know and abide by the rules of a sport
  • Wear appropriate protective gear (for example, shin guards for soccer, a hard-shell helmet when facing a baseball pitcher, a helmet and body padding for ice hockey)
  • Know how to correctly use athletic equipment (for example, correctly adjusting the bindings on snow skis)
  • Always warm up before playing
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid playing when very tired or in pain

Proper Training

Young athletes need proper training for sports. They should be encouraged to train for the sport rather than expecting the sport itself to get them in shape.

Young athletes also should follow a regular conditioning program (in conjunction with their coach) with incorporated exercises designed specifically for their chosen sport. In addition, a well-structured, closely supervised weight-training regimen may modestly help youngsters prepare for athletic activities.

STOP Sports Injuries

Many sports injuries in young athletes — particularly elbow and knee injuries — are caused by excessive, repetitive stress on immature muscle-bone units. Doctors are seeing an increase in overuse injuries because many young athletes are focusing on just one sport and are training year-round. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has partnered with STOP Sports Injuries to help educate parents, coaches, and athletes about how to prevent overuse injuries. Specific tips to prevent overuse injuries include:

  • Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing in one season. Kids who play on more than one team are especially at risk for overuse injuries.
  • Do not allow your child to play one sport year round – taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention.

Atmosphere of Healthy Competition

Coaches and parents are also responsible for creating an atmosphere that promotes teamwork and sportsmanship.

Youth sports should always be fun. The “win at all costs” attitude of many parents, coaches, professional athletes and peers can lead to injuries. A young athlete striving to meet the unrealistic expectations of others may ignore warning signs of injury and continue to play with pain.

Young athletes must learn to deal with success and defeat in order to place events in a proper perspective. The promotion of the “win at all costs” ethic can have both short-term and long-term detrimental effects on impressionable young athletes.

Special Considerations

Female Athletes

Sports and exercise are healthy activities for girls and women of all ages. The participation of girls and young women in sports has increased significantly since the passage of Title IX. Occasionally, a female athlete who focuses on being thin or lightweight may eat too little or exercise too much. Doing this can cause long-term health damage.

Three interrelated illnesses may develop when a girl or young woman goes to extremes in dieting or exercise. Together, these conditions are known as the “female athlete triad.”

The three conditions are:

  • Disordered eating
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Premature osteoporosis (low bone density for age)

Treatment for female athlete triad often requires help from a team of medical professionals including your doctor, your athletic trainer, a nutritionist, and a psychological counselor.

Steroid Use

Many young athletes — boys and girls — use black-market anabolic steroids to improve their athletic performance. Steroids have been shown to increase muscle mass, but they can cause serious and potentially life-threatening complications and should be avoided. Most steroids are illegal and are banned by sports organizations.

Sports Supplements

Many athletes of all ages take sports supplements, such as creatine, because they think it will increase strength and improve sports performance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate nutritional supplements. This means that the supplement products available in stores may vary in amount and quality, and there is no guarantee of safety or purity.

There is also not enough research on the long-term health effects of taking sports supplements, especially in adolescents and children who are still growing.

No matter what your age or health condition, always see your doctor for advice before taking nutritional supplements.

Benefits of Sports Participation

Athletic activity by young people is generally safe with low risks and high benefits. The major goal should be enjoyable participation. Exposure to competitive and noncompetitive sports encourages the development of fitness, motor skills, social skills, and a life-long appreciation for sports.