Managing Sports Injuries and Preventing Concussion
It’s the time of year for fall sports competition, as young athletes across Douglas County participate in practices, weight training, games and matches and work hard to ensure top performance in their respective sports. It’s also the time for sports injuries – a competitive athlete’s nightmare.
Parents attending the Parent University Managing Sports Injuries and Preventing Concussion workshop at Sky Ridge Medical Center heard a countercultural appeal to parents of athletes: work to ensure your athlete is mentally and physically healthy through sports - and specifically, through a variety of sports.
Our young athletes have become more specialized in sports with year-round competition and travel. While it would seem more efficient and effective for an athlete to specialize in a sport, it is actually ill-advised – injuries, burn out, developmental and social issues can create a sports experience with few benefits.
Sport specialization is considered a risk factor for injury. As young athletes are developing, it could become detrimental to future health and performance. Injuries to a growth plate can result in problems with future growth. The growth plates in young bodies begin as developing tissues at the end of long bones that will eventually be replaced by solid bone at skeletal maturity.
The highest risk factors for overuse injuries are prior injuries. Other risk factors for overuse injuries include athletes experiencing an adolescent growth spurt during training or play, followed by sports-specialized training and high-training volumes. In order to mitigate risk factors for injury, the first rule to follow is the hours per week of practice should never exceed the age in years of the athlete.
Once an overuse injury happens, the best protocol is rest and then reduction of training volume, followed by cross training, physical therapy and then a focus on sleep and nutrition. Sleep as a performance enhancer is now creating an influx of hired sleep consultants into the major sports franchises. The benefits of proper sleep cannot be understated.
To best prevent overuse injuries in sports, limit training during rapid growth spurts and make sure that annual physical examinations are maintained, as well as prompt evaluation of pain or potential injury. Also, discourage playing through the pain. Stories abound of legends who played through their injury – not so many stories about the consequences later. Similarly countercultural to conventional wisdom surrounds the amount of rest needed to maintain the health of young developing athletes. Athletes should rest one to two days per week and two to three months per year.
Importantly, encourage multi-sport participation in order to cross train muscles, delaying sport specialization until late adolescence. Make sure that equipment is properly fitted to the athlete and in good condition. And of course, emphasize strength, balance, flexibility and neuromuscular control. Lastly, make sure that skill development is emphasized over winning.
Focusing on the athlete’s mental wellness and is important to encouraging a positive, healthy sports experience. Here are five questions to help improve your athlete’s playing environment:
1.Are you enjoying yourself?
2.What do the coaches/parents/other adults do that make sports more enjoyable for you? More stressful and less enjoyable?
3.How would you like me to cheer for you during games or matches? Should I say nothing, cheer positively, cheer equally for everyone, etc?
4.In the car ride home after the game, do you like to talk about the game or would you rather wait until later or the next day?
5.What other sports do you want to play?
On the minds of many athletes and their parents is the issue of concussion. The word CTE is now a known acronym. And to be sure, concussion and brain injury are serious topics. They require important conversations by athletes, parents and coaches in order to ensure the safety of all athletes involved and that honest reporting is paramount to ensuring brain health.
The Douglas County School District has mandated concussion protocols. It involves a partnership of individuals including parents, doctors, teachers, administrators, coaches and athletes who recognize symptoms and know the proper process following a potential concussion.
The concussion protocol includes:
Recognizing the signs and symptoms
Immediate removal from play/school
Medical care/treatment plan
Gradual return to academics
Gradual return to play/sports
Those closest to the athlete should be aware of changes in the athletes mood, behavior and sleep patterns, as well as memory loss, confusion and clumsiness. An athlete does not have to lose consciousness in order to have a concussion. For additional information about concussion, you may consult your school’s trainer or visit www.youthsportsmed.com for further information.