With the start of the school year, sports injuries can be a major concern for parents. What do experts recommend as the number one method for injury prevention? Train before sports try-outs start, not during. Soccer, football, cross country, field hockey, women’s volleyball, and cheerleading are a few of the most common high school sports that will be filling our local fields and grandstands over the coming months.
One in Ten Student Athletes Suffers an Injury or Illness
“Participation in high school sports can offer plenty of exercise and physical activity and can help student athletes develop a wide variety of skills,” said Peter Ouellette, physical therapist and and manager of rehabilitation services at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center in Ware. “While it’s a great way for young athletes to maintain fitness, form new friendships, and develop team building and leadership skills, one in ten of those students will end up with an injury or illness,” said Ouellette.
“Most of these injuries are to the lower extremity and are commonly contusions, blisters, and abrasions. Muscle strains and joint sprains may also occur at a lower frequency, and we have also become much more aware of the potential for, and screening of, sports concussion especially in the contact sports. Fatigue, dehydration, and poor conditioning can obviously play a role in sports injury, though poor choices in clothing, especially footwear, can also be a factor,” said Ouellette.
Some discomfort is normal with the onset of a new or renewed sports activity, such as muscle aches or stiffness after hard practice. When an overuse injury occurs, young athletes should modify the intensity, duration and/or frequency of the activity to allow the body to recover and heal itself. This distress is known as “delayed onset muscle soreness,” and is discomfort which develops one or two days after the beginning of intense activity, and typically lasts three to five days. Although performance may be reduced for a few days, the body accommodates to the new stress as the muscles become conditioned.
The Number One Approach to Injury Prevention
“The number one approach to injury prevention is to train prior to try-outs, not during,” said Ouellette. “The high school athlete is often busy working, vacationing, and socializing during the summer months. When returning to their specific sports, they often find themselves struggling to get back into game-shape. The intensity of the pre-season and try-outs is often especially vigorous with coaches making decisions about their personnel and players vying for positions and playing time. The late summer training should be sport specific and gradually build to peak just when sports try-outs are starting,” noted Ouellette.
Noticing and Responding to Signs of Injury
Students, coaches, and parents should be aware of the signs signaling the progressive onset of an overuse injury:
- Initially feeling pain at the beginning of activity
- Then discomfort throughout practice
- Finally, soreness during and after practice – particularly soreness that lasts for several days
An athlete limping during practice and games should be immediately assessed by an athletic trainer or physical therapist to establish the severity of the condition and the potential need for rest, and /or physician referral.
An overuse injury is preventable,” said Ouellette. “You can’t just put ice on these injuries and expect them to go away. Recovery is often slow and very difficult to achieve. Early recognition, rest periods, and specific treatment of an injury are key to preventing a chronic condition and getting the player back on the field.”
A warm-up, followed by a light stretching program prior to athletic activity, is recommended. Stretching following sports participation may help your body prepare for the next bout of exercise. Slow, sustained stretching is significantly safer and more effective than bouncing. As beneficial as stretching is, it is not a cure-all and will not prevent injuries from occurring when athletes push their bodies too far.
“One important item to remember is that when injury does occur, full recovery is never guaranteed, so prevention really is the key,” said Ouellette. “Athletes must get fit for their sport rather than use the sport to get fit. Student athletes should see the camp’s athletic trainer if they are having any excessive or prolonged discomfort, so that the problem can be addressed before it develops into a serious injury.”
“If protective gear is required for a game, it’s important for practice, too. Warm up and stay hydrated for practice just as you would for a game,” said Ouellette offering these additional tips:
Injury Prevention Tips for School Athletes
Make sure all protective gear is the right size and properly adjusted.
Never “play through” an injury. Get immediate help from a coach or trainer, and be sure to mention everything that hurts or aches.
- Rest often and rehydrate with water or an electrolyte sports drink. In two hours of activity, student athletes can lose a quart of fluid by sweating.
- Follow the rules. In most sports, the rules are based on not only sportsmanship but safety.
- Don’t break in new footwear during try-outs; bring two pairs of cleats or sneakers and socks especially if the grass is wet with morning dew or rain.
- Have a topical anti-chafing product in your sports bag to apply at the first indication of chafing or a blister.
About Baystate Rehabilitation Care
Baystate Rehabilitation Care has several sites throughout the health system including Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center in Ware and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer. They provide a full range of rehabilitation services to help patients regain function and achieve recovery.
The team of experienced physical and occupational therapists will work with you and your referring physician to develop an individualized treatment plan designed to reach your goals. Additionally, they offer rehabilitation including a certified hand program, vestibular disorders (balance, dizziness, and gait problems),and audiology and hearing aid dispensing.
For more information about Rehabilitation Services at Baystate Mary Lane call 413-967-2180 and at Baystate Wing Hospital call 413-370-5254.