Athletes learn early on in their careers what it takes to fine-tune their skills and be strong competitors. As young athletes grow, it’s important to make sure they’re staying healthy on and off the field. With middle-school-aged athletes, this means keeping an eye out for injuries that may impact their rapidly growing and changing bodies.
As young athletes begin puberty, parents and coaches often notice an increase in their skill level, dexterity, strength, endurance and enthusiasm for sports. This rapid growth, along with hormonal changes, also increases stress on their muscles and bones.
By recognizing problems at an early stage, parents and coaches can make sure athletes receive rest and medical care to prevent future problems.
Injuries to watch for:
- Growth plate injuries: Young athletes’ growth plates are often their bodies' "weakest link." These areas of growing tissue at the ends of bones are susceptible to injury from excessive impact and training. Sometimes, growth plates are widened or even fractured under this strain. If pain persists in a bone or joint, this may be the cause.
- Stress fractures: Injuries to bones are also common in areas that receive repeated stress or impact. Pain or a limp that lasts more than a week are red flags that may indicate a stress fracture.
- Vascular problems in joints: Impact and excessive training can cause vascular deficiencies, or problems with blood flow, to cartilage of the knees, ankles and elbows. Pain and decreased range of motion are clues to this type of injury.
- Decreased blood supply to bones: Also known as vascular necrosis, this can result in pain and disability. Pain and limping are clues when this problem affects the lower extremities; pain and decreased range of motion are typically the clues for upper extremity vascular necrosis.
Ultimately, keeping your young athlete in the game means encouraging healthy habits and watching for signs of injury. Pushing through the pain can result in catastrophic injury to a bone or growth plate. Consult with a physician when an injury is suspected and take steps to train safely and rest when recommended. At the Sports Medicine and Performance Center, we take a balanced approach to keeping athletes at their best. Our 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