Injury Prevention in the Younger Athlete

Did you know that approximately 50% of youth sporting injuries are preventable?

“Ausplay data tells us that 71% of Australian children participate in organized sport and up to 10% will be injured and need to go to accident and emergency every year.  The data does not include all those that might turn up to a physio clinic, however approximately 50% of child and youth sport injuries are preventable through measures such as general injury prevention programs” says Donna White, Titled Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist at Total Physiotherapy Manly Vale.

A study in 2015 in the Australian Journal of Sports Medicine identified four key factors that if included in a child’s sports program would significantly reduce their risk of injury. These include: Strength, Balance, Flexibility and Load.

1. Strength Training

Strength training has been clearly shown to be relatively safe, reduce injury rates and has documented performance enhancing effects. The graph below shows, the younger children start completing strength exercises the better. Children as young as 6 –12 years of age can complete 15—20 reps using simple bands of light weights.

Level 1: 6-9 years of age: Modification of body weight exercises and light resistance (brooms and bands etc) work only for relatively high repetitions eg 15+ reps;

Level 2: 9-12 years of age:  10-15 RM; (maximal loading approximately 60% maximum) using predominantly simple free weight exercises and machine exercises where the machine is an appropriate size for the child.

Level 3: 12-15 years of age: 8-15 RM; (maximal loading approximately 70% max using progressively more free weight exercises but avoiding complex lifts.

2. Balance

Balance drills have been introduced into many prevention programs, and when combined with coordination drills and landing drills, dramatically reduces injury. For example Balance drills from the FIFA 11 prevention of injury program for soccer.

A large randomised trial in four European countries with more than 4,000 kids (age range: 7-12) has shown an impressive injury reduction of about 50% in those teams practising the FIFA 11+ Kids as a warm-up.

Match injuries were reduced by 31%, training injuries by 40%, lower extremity injuries by 41%, overall non-contact injuries by 55% and severe injuries by 56%.

“Some kids do not have adequate strength and co-ordination to control and protect their rapidly growing skeleton, It is also important to remember that children are more prone to fatigue and often require different dietary and sleep requirement’s” says Donna.

3. Flexibility

When a child goes through their growth spurt, they can grow as much as 10—12 cm in one year, it increases the child’s susceptibility to joint and muscle pain especially around the growth plates.

Growth plates are thicker and more fragile during this period of development. One of the causes for this is that the bones can lengthen at a greater rate than the muscles lengthen, resulting in pain at the insertion site.

Physiotherapists can check for muscle length and strength imbalances and assist the young sports person in navigating this period with specific strength and flexibility exercises to address any imbalances.

4. Load

The refers to “how much training/competing is a child doing and how much is too much. A Physio can guide you here, however the principles are:

  • Keep training consistently, Avoid sharp spikes in training, Avoid sharp dips in training, Always gradually return to sport post injury or illness..
  • As a parent or coach it is important to review the load for your child. This includes: How many hours, sessions and days they are training per week and how much variety they are exposed to.

The Facts – What Do We Know?

Approx. 50% of child and youth sports injuries are preventable. AM.J Sports Med 2015

All strength exercises given to children must be closely watched by an accredited adult.

50% of girls stop sport at 13 and 50% of boys stop at 15, right when we want them to be active! (BMC Public Health 2018)

25% of your adult skeleton is added in your teens. Bone is dynamic and responds to controlled load positively. (Br J Sports Med 2016)

“What research tells us is that strength training not only reduces injury rates but also has performance enhancing effects” says Donna.

Additional Tips for Injury Prevention

  • Sleep: If you sleep less than 8 hours on average per night, your risk of being injured is 1.7 times greater than those who sleep over 8 hours. Getting organised, switching off screens 1 hour before bedtime can help make it happen.
  • Stress: You are more susceptible to injury when stressed. This can be academic stress or illness.
  • If injury occurs: R.I.C.E and seek medical/physiotherapy
  • Growing pains: Don’t dismiss the pain as “growing pains”. If in doubt speak to your Doctor or Physio.
  • During growth: keep the muscles long to keep up with the lengthening bones. Foam Rollers and balls may assist. Your Physio will screen your child, check muscle length and strength and stability. If needed they will devise an individual program.

Overall, if you are ever concerned or need guidance please contact our team at Total Physiotherapy to speak with a physiotherapist regarding your child’s injury management.

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