Though school may be out for the summer, youth and prep sports have truly become year-round endeavors.
But while young athletes focus on the fun of competition, hard work and trophies, their parents and coaches understand that other things happen any time of year – things like sprained ankles, bruises and, heaven forbid, worse.
“As a parent, naturally, you want to see your child excel and, above all, have fun while playing sports. But you also know the risks involved and that there’s always a chance of injury,” said Dr. David Woodbury, a Sports Medicine surgeon with Longstreet Clinic. “The good news is that there is plenty you can do to help ensure that your child gets to enjoy an entire season and avoid spending part of it on the sidelines with an injury. And if you can get them to buy in and follow some guidelines, it will set them up for success and better health for the rest of their lives.”
While it is impossible to guarantee injury prevention, the following steps will help your young champion be as prepared as possible for anything that any competition may throw their way.
“No matter the sport or activity, you will not be able to be at your best without proper hydration,” Dr. Woodbury said. “Everything you need to perform at a high level is affected by hydration – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and reaction time. Even if you’re just a little dehydrated, those will be decreased.”
Hydrated muscles do not get as quickly fatigued. Meanwhile hydration better maintains your blood pressure during exercise, meaning your heart does not have to work as hard. Hydration also improves blood flow and circulation, so that your muscles will receive oxygen and nutrients. It will also remove metabolic by-products and waste from muscles.
So proper hydration will help prevent muscle injury while also keeping your core temperature lower, helping to guard against overheating.
That said, what is proper hydration? Athletes certainly need more water than non-athletes, especially those that sweat a lot. And it is not a case of simply swigging water just before, during and after competition. Proper hydration should be maintained throughout the day. To that end, young athletes should drink one-half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight. And, of course, you should always drink during breaks in competition, taking four to six big swallows of water for every 15-20 minutes of exercise.
Also, water is always the best option. However, if you exercise for more than one hour, engage in an intense exercise or are playing in high heat/humidity, sports drinks are acceptable and even recommended. Just do not rely on them for your main hydration.
“While your athlete is likely coached or trained by someone who understands the necessity of stretching – both in warm-ups and cool-downs – it is a good idea to ensure that they are getting enough stretching,” Dr. Woodbury said. “Stretching keeps muscles flexible, strong, and healthy – this, in turn, provides for optimal range of motion in the joints.”
Supple and flexible joints mean that your child will have a better chance of avoiding injury – or even allow the body to avoid major injury. It also helps the body to recover from injury faster. Conversely, exercise without flexibility leads to shortened, tighter muscles and almost guarantees injury at some point. Even children, who naturally have more flexible joints than adults, may become tight and inflexible if they are not careful.
Stress to your child the importance of stretching, but ensure they know the difference between warm-up and cool-down stretches, which are designed to produce different outcomes. Warm-up stretches are “active” or “dynamic” stretches and get the muscles moving and warm. This allows them to better respond when called upon to produce a fast or full-force reaction. Cool-down stretching, meanwhile, adds flexibility to the muscle while also letting it know that it can relax and begin to recover from exercise.
Active stretching includes something as simple as straight leg marches or leg swings, and a quick internet search of “active stretches” will provide plenty of examples. Just ensure that they do not hold these stretches for more than a few seconds. Save the longer stretches for your cool down. When your child finishes an activity, have them hold a stretch for 45 seconds to one minute.
EAT RIGHT – AND GET YOUR VITAMINS
“You would be amazed at the number of young athletes that are not getting the right nutrition. And it is a proven fact that poor nutrition leads to soft tissue injuries,” Dr. Woodbury said. “And we are starting to see a lot of young athletes with vitamin D deficiencies. Sometime this is due to issues like lactose intolerance, but many times there’s no obvious reason for it.”
While it’s fine to let your child have a fast-food cheeseburger, pizza, or chicken fingers every now and then, you will set them up for optimal performance if you stick to the basics of the food pyramid, serving up plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is also vitally important that they consume lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, and/or soy products.
They should also be consuming plenty of carbohydrates in order to provide them with an easy-to-break-down source of energy. But not all carbs are created equal. Try to avoid potato chips, French fries and donuts and opt for more complex carbs, such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread, and cereal. And fruits and vegetables can also provide plenty of carbohydrates.
If your student-athlete cannot always have a well-rounded diet, a daily multivitamin should be taken. Vitamins and minerals, especially calcium (which is prevalent in dairy products), allow their bodies to support growing bones. Meanwhile minerals such as iron help the body more efficiently carry oxygen through the blood stream.
CHECK PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is vital that you check to see that your child’s protective and playing equipment all fit properly.
That means checking that shoes fit correctly, not to mention that helmets, shoulder pads, shin guards, athletic cups, etc., are all up to the task for the season ahead.
It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and then, suddenly, you’re ready for opening kickoff and your child tells you his shoes hurt his feet. That is why you need to ask your kids – constantly, as their body parts may grow fast and at different rates – how their equipment feels and if they see/feel any issues with it.
CONDITION PRIOR TO THE SEASON
If your child’s season is already in swing, it is too late to truly embark on a conditioning program. But know that preseason conditioning – even if it is not intense – can prove a major aid in guarding your child against injury.
“Preseason training lets your athlete strengthen muscles, which can help protect joints and reduce injury,” Dr. Woodbury said. “Depending on how you approach it, it can also allow your athlete to increase their aerobic capacity and/or increase their flexibility. There is a reason why professional and high-level athletes don’t just jump straight into competition.”
You can tell your child that he or she is being just like their sports idols, and preseason conditioning also allows them to focus on themselves and the season ahead. And it can make a big difference to their bodies.
A study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that strength and conditioning training reduced sports injuries to less than one-third of what was normally expected. Conditioning also reduced overuse injuries by almost one half. Not all preseason conditioning programs are the same, however. And you would not follow the same program for football that you would for tennis, or prep for golf like your child was going to play soccer. And the good news is that there are countless training programs available online or via app (many for free) that will help your child get ready for the season ahead.
And preparation is really what avoiding injury is all about.
WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF INJURY
Following these injury prevention guidelines can help maximize the likelihood of a successful fall athletic season for your student athlete. Should an injury occur, however, know that Longstreet Clinic’s Sports Medicine team is ready to put all its expertise to work in helping your athlete get back on the playing field.
Longstreet Clinic offers a wide range of expertise and experience in one practice. Its Neuroscience and Orthopedics Center, set to begin seeing patients this October, combines orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, certified athletic trainers, and physical therapists all work together for the benefit of patients of all ages – including your young athlete. The cutting-edge Neuroscience and Orthopedics Center also offers Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as Interventional Pain Management. On-site imaging services include X-ray, MRI, and CT, providing a full range of services for any physical condition. In most cases, same day appointments are available.
Dr. Woodbury is one of the recent additions to the Neuroscience and Orthopedic Center. He is board-certified in both Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. Dr. Ian Quinn, who serves patients in Braselton and Demorest, completed a residency in Family Practice and is also fellowship trained in Primary Care Sports Medicine. The Neuroscience and Orthopedic Center sports medicine staff also includes Meredith Mink, AT-C, a certified athletic trainer.
The Neuroscience and Orthopedic Center at Longstreet Clinic is the only comprehensive program in northeast Georgia that covers patient needs from head to toe. We are your team for an integrated approach to brain, spine, joint, muscle and sports care, bringing together neurosurgery, orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, interventional pain management, and sports medicine.
If you or your child have an injury or are dealing with the after effects of a sports injury, please contact the Neuroscience and Orthopedics Center and let us help you on the road to recovery – and back to competition – today. Call our main offices at 678-207-4100.