A touchdown in overtime. A swish from the 3-point line. A perfect back handspring. They’re a source of pride and exhilaration for school-age athletes and their parents.
But with those athletic feats — and in everyday practice — comes the chance of injury. Knowing the common ones for their chosen sport means you can help kids protect themselves with the right equipment, the proper techniques or the smartest way to warm up. Read on for some typical injuries in young athletes and ways of avoiding them, according to Emily Olmes, DO, a Geisinger pediatric sports medicine specialist.
Knee injuries and shoulder dislocations are big ones to watch for in contact sports like football. Running stairs to strengthen the muscles and ligaments, and making sure cleats fit right, can protect knees. Building up rotator cuff muscles and using good throwing, tackling and blocking techniques keep shoulders in good shape. If concussion is suspected after a hit to the head, sitting out immediately can keep it from worsening.
A range of skills and equipment means gymnasts’ potential for injury varies. Wrist fractures or sprains and Achilles tendon strains happen often. Braces and taping may help prevent wrist problems. Warmup and cooldown stretches can fend off tendinitis.
With so much fancy footwork, ankle sprain is one of the main issues in soccer. Pre-game ankle stretches are key, as is balance training with a wobble board. And drink water — dehydration leads to worse performance and poorer technique.
Like gymnasts, cheerleaders tend to sprain or strain ankle and knee ligaments, as well as their hip and lower back muscles. Occasional falls can lead to head injuries, like concussion. Always warm up, use proper landing technique and have spotters on hand.
Throwing, catching and batting raise a ballplayer’s risk of shoulder and elbow injuries, usually strains or tears in the cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Counteract them with conditioning exercises, limiting pitch counts and stopping play at the first sign of pain.
Running, jumping and pivoting lead to ankle sprains and Achilles tendinitis (see soccer and gymnastics entries for prevention tips). But jumper’s knee and jammed fingers are common, too. Avoid them by doing regular hamstring stretches and using proper technique for catching the basketball.
Inflamed or irritated tissues in track athletes’ hardworking legs are the source of runner’s knee or shin splints — which can lead to stress fractures if not treated. Keep these conditions at bay with good running shoes, a gradual buildup of mileage and maintaining a healthy weight.
Something that gets overlooked in many high school sports — especially in football, track/cross-country, baseball and cheerleading — is core work. Off-season or pre-season conditioning should emphasize abdominal and hip-strengthening exercises, like planks and glute bridges. Too many knee, hip, low back and even upper extremity injuries stem from a weak core.
Partners in wellness
Sometimes, being a trusted source of healthcare means finding the right people to support your cause. And who better to promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle than Penn State athletes?
Whether they’re handing out healthy snacks or teaching local kids to toss a football, these student ambassadors share Geisinger’s values — and we’re honored to work with them.
Top photo: Football players Dvon Ellies, Keaton Ellis, Kalen King and Daequan Hardy at a football clinic for local youth; Middle photo: Basketball players Makenna Marisa and Jameel Brown at a Blue-White Weekend event; Bottom photos: Keaton Ellis and Kalen King give kids tips on their game.
This story originally appeared in PA Health, our quarterly full-color magazine filled with wellness tips, inspiring stories and more.
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