By recognizing these injuries and taking steps to prevent them whenever possible, parents and coaches can help athletes stay at their best. Besides general sprains, breaks and strains, some common problems in high school athletes include:
Back pain. This is most common in sports with extension such as gymnastics, dance, ice skating and for inside linemen in football. While the majority of back pain is muscle-related, 6 to 25 percent of high school athletes will be diagnosed with spondylolysis. This stress defect or weakness in the spine requires modified training, bracing, physical therapy and, on rare occasions, surgery. If back pain radiates down the leg or buttocks, a herniated disk should be considered. In all cases of persistent or severe back pain, a physician exam should be the first step. An x-ray, CT, MRI, or bone scan may follow.
Knee pain. There are two common causes of knee pain in high school athletes and both are more frequent in female athletes. One is patellafemoral syndrome – a tilting of the knee cap on the upper leg bone, commonly caused by an imbalance of muscles. Physical therapy, taping and braces are all treatments that allow the athlete to continue play. The second problem is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury or tear, caused by a pivot and shifting of the knee. Signs of this injury are immediate, severe pain, swelling and limping. A physician exam and an MRI confirm this injury. Surgery and physical therapy are usually necessary before an athlete can return to play.
Good all-around care can prevent many injuries. Specialists with the Sports Medicine and Performance Center take a balanced approach to keeping athletes in the game. Their approach stresses:
- Mental health
- Stretching and strengthening muscles
- Balance training
- Proper use of braces, tape and other devices while healing
- Physical therapy and modified training after an injury
- Proper and regular use of safety equipment, such as helmets