Sprains and Strains
Injuries are common in young athletes, especially sprains and strains. Sprains are injuries to the ligaments, which attach bones to other bones, and strains are injuries to muscles or tendons, which work together to control joint movement.
Mike McElroy, MS, LAT, and Kyle Scharer, MS, LAT, talk about how we care for young athletes with sprains and strains.
Sprains and strains usually are the result of an:
- Acute injury, which means it happened suddenly, like a bad fall.
- Overuse injury, which means it's from using one area of the body too much, like playing sports that continually stress a shoulder or knee.
A sprain or strain from an acute injury generally can't be prevented, but young athletes can decrease their chances of an overuse injury.
Overuse injuries often are caused by:
- A rapid increase in the level of activity, like going from summer vacation into a sports season too quickly.
- A lack of knowledge or skill in a particular sport, often seen in athletes who are participating in a sport for the first time.
- Repeated, energetic activity without proper rest periods (playing on too many teams or in too many sports at one time).
Overuse injuries can be prevented:
- Before participating in sports, first do a full-body warm-up and then stretch.
- As the season begins, increase training levels slowly. Try to follow a weekly 10 percent rule to decide how and when to increase training. This means increasing a training program or activity by 10 percent each week to allow the body enough time to recover. This applies to increasing speed or mileage for runners as well as the amount of weight added in strength training programs.
- Don't compete all year long. Take breaks and vary training exercises to maintain physical fitness.
- Wear proper footwear and use well-maintained equipment.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and get plenty of rest to maintain body strength.
Treating overuse injuries
Young athletes should rest to allow mild injuries to heal. If an injury causes significant pain or swelling:
- Follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method of treatment. Completely rest from painful activity, and put ice on the injured part of the body up to 20 minutes every hour (not directly on skin). Wrap it with an elastic bandage (tight, but still allowing blood flow), and elevate it above the level of the heart.
- See a pediatric sports medicine specialist for limping, poor range of motion in a joint, swelling or severe or continuing pain. He or she may recommend X-rays or other tests to evaluate the injury. Physical therapy usually is needed to fully restore the young athlete's range of motion and strength before he or she returns to activities.
Never try to play through pain
Untreated overuse injuries can put pressure on bones, causing:
- Stress fractures, which are cracks in a bone that slowly weaken it.
- Growth plate injuries, which means the growing parts of a young athlete's bones, located near the end of the bone, have been damaged or fractured.