Ease into Sports to Prevent Injury
By Christina Elston

From baseball to track and field, volleyball to water polo, spring offers plenty of possibilities for young athletes. But kids who jump in too fast leave themselves vulnerable to injury.

Sports medicine specialist Cindy Bailey, who has worked with several U.S. Olympic teams, details the kinds of injuries that can plague kids if they don’t ease into their sport slowly:

• Hamstring and quadriceps strains – Stretching these thigh muscles (hamstring on the back, quadriceps on the front) without first warming them up can cause a painful strain.

• Shin splints – Running can overload the tissue that attaches the lower-leg muscles to the shin, causing tenderness.

• Rotator cuff strain – Overdoing it after a period of inactivity (a long winter) can cause strain and pain to the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.

• Elbow tendonitis – Also known as “tennis elbow,” pain in the bands of tissue that attach the muscles to the bones around the elbow is common in sports that require repetitive motion.
Bailey, the director of physical therapy at Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital, says strains and tendonitis are usually caused by doing “too much, too soon.” She recommends a gradual buildup of fun activities and light practice for a month or two before the start of the sports season to get kids in shape.

Take a Knee

In adolescent girls, knee injuries are also a common problem. Bailey notes that girls’ style of play tends to be more focused on face-to-face interaction with their teammates and opponents, and this gives them a higher center of gravity (whereas boys tend to focus more on the ball, puck, etc., and look down). And adolescent girls’ hips are wider than those of boys.

“This places more of an outward or lateral force on the kneecap,” says Bailey. “One strong thigh-muscle contraction with the knee in a susceptible position may cause the knee cap to be pulled too far laterally, creating inflammation at the front of the knee. At times, it may dislocate.” Regular stretching and building up the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip muscles can prevent this.
You can address most minor injuries at home with rest, a little ice, a light wrap and elevation to fight off any swelling. If this doesn’t take care of the problem within a few days, Bailey says, it’s time to see the doctor.

Christina Elston is a health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.