DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am an athletic director at a middle school, and a new school year is almost here. I anticipate seeing an increase in sports-related injuries from soccer, football, cheerleading, flag football and other activities. Young athletes get plenty of bumps and bruises, but how can they avoid injuries? Any advice on how long they should sit out before getting back on the field or in the game?
ANSWER: Sports are such a fantastic opportunity for young people. Sports provide not only physical health benefits, but also social, emotional, mental and educational benefits. When comparing those who participate in youth sports against those who do not, young athletes have lower rates of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem, decreased substance use, improved life skills, higher academic achievements, and overall higher quality of life.
However, participation in sports comes with potential risks, including injury. Young athletes have different injuries since they are still growing and are more vulnerable to injury. Certain sports come with the risk of common injuries, but any injury can occur in almost any activity.
Types of injuries include traumatic injuries and overuse injuries.
Traumatic injuries are typically sudden and caused by a twist, fall or collision. These injuries typically occur when the player is interacting with the sporting environment. Common examples are fractures of bones, sprains of ligaments, strains of muscles and tendons, and cuts or abrasions of the skin. Other injuries, like concussions or those affecting other organ systems, are less common.
Traumatic injuries are more difficult to avoid. For example, some sports, like football, have numerous intentional collisions per game, creating an increased risk for injury. Soccer has less collisions, but it still has significant potential for body parts to get hit or twisted. This means athletes are predisposed to lower extremity, head and neck injuries.
Sometimes these injuries occur simply from stepping or running on an uneven surface. Other sports, like cross-country running, cheerleading and dance, do not have the same volume of traumatic injuries. But they have risks of falls and broken bones.
Some strategies that can be considered to decrease the risk of traumatic injury include:
-- Initiate injury prevention programs. Certain movement patterns or weakness can increase the risk of injury. Screening tools can look at movement patterns and try to predict risk for injury. Programs are looking to prevent injuries. For example, several programs are looking to prevent ACL tears. A sports medicine professional can guide you to resources for screening and prevention. Also, consider programs for injury prevention at community hospitals and health care organizations.