By Mary O’KEEFE
Summer is here and for many kids that means summer sports. Working out in the sun, pushing their bodies to the limit and having fun while doing it. But sometimes, a quick twist of an ankle can change a season.
In the United States, about 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports, and about 3.5 million injuries occur each year, according to Children’s Hospital Boston.
“As more and more children and adolescents participate in the same sport year-round, many young athletes are developing overuse injuries. In fact, overuse is responsible for about half of the sports injuries that happen to middle school and high school students. Overuse injuries usually occur over time with prolonged, repeated motion or impact. They range from chronic muscle strains and tendinitis to stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone),” according to a paper by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2002.
It is important to take care of injuries as soon as they happen. A physician should evaluate any sports injury, recommends AAP Dr. Douglas Gregory M.D., a pediatrician specializing in sports injuries.
“Ignoring the problem may turn it into a more serious injury,” Gregory writes. “With proper treatment and rest, the athlete usually can continue participating through the season.”
Laura Stewart, president of Wellspring Therapy in Montrose, agreed that the sooner an athlete, or anyone with an injury, gets help and treatment the better they will heal.
“It is better to have a couple of weeks off as opposed to years,” Stewart said.
Stewart, an occupational therapist, said that therapy does not begin and end with working out the sore or injured muscle.
“We emphasize prevention, to educate the kids and their parents,” she added.
After kids are diagnosed and it is found they need therapy, Stewart, along with other Wellspring therapists, begin with traditional therapy but then continue with practical therapy.
The first open room at the therapy session has traditional massage tables and exercise bikes but in another larger room there is a gym atmosphere. There are large rubber balls, ropes to swing on, ladders to run across and giant wheels to push around. This is not a typical therapy session.
“We try to train to the [sports] position the athlete plays,” said Jesus Almanza, DPT therapist. “What is the point of doing so many knee extensions if that is not what they do [when they work out]?”
“Jesus is trained in sports [therapy]. He actually watches the way [a patient] performs to see if they use the right mechanics,” Stewart said.
As the injured muscle or bone heals, Almanza said he asks the patient to show him how he or she performs the sport and then guides the athlete on how to make certain not to reinjure them.
There is equipment at the therapy center that will help athletes, or anyone with injuries, get back to their normal lives. One piece is a tall tower with plastic flags at various heights.
“That is for basketball players, for jump shots,” Almanza said.
The key thing to any therapy, Stewart and Almanza said, is warming up and stretching.
Stretching is important, agreed Linda Taix from Taix Work Out Studio.
“First of all if [the person] has never worked out [or played the sport] before they need to start slow. Don’t do the challenging warm up drill that a seasoned athlete would do,” Taix advised. “And never stretch a cold muscle.”
Taix suggested doing a warm up first.
“It is like a rubber band that has been sitting on the ground for a long time. If you pick it up and stretch it, it could break. But if you warm it up, it won’t snap,” she said.
Taix added that it is important to stay hydrated. A person can cramp and muscles will pull if he/she is dehydrated.
“As far as injury prevention, listen to your body. If you feel a twinge you need to stop and assess it. Or ask someone to help you,” she said.
Sometimes younger athletes will hear their body scream, “Stop,” but will keep going because they are young. But even young athletes need to take it easy and have injuries assessed when they happen.
At Crescenta Valley High School, the coaches try and balance games and practice to minimize injuries. For example, summer basketball is winding down. Throughout the season, the team played 30 games.
“Our philosophy is if we play more games, we practice less,” said Coach Shahin Zargarian. “We don’t want to overwork their bodies so we try to tone down our practices.”
Zargarian said his team warms up before each practice and game, with a five minute stretching routine and light running to prepare players’ muscles. If injuries do occur, a trainer is on hand to make an assessment.
“We are really lucky to have Junko [a trainer] take a look at the player,” he said.
The coach said the injury is evaluated and, if needed, will be treated with therapy or a visit to the doctor.
The bottom line according to Stewart, Almanza and Taix is for athletes to listen to their body and if an injury does occur to take care of it at the time. If therapy is needed, have it done thoroughly no matter what the age of the person.
“Little kids can get hurt as older kids,” Almanza said. “Obviously they are little kids and can recover quickly. It is very important not to do too much [too soon]. But they are strong,” he said.
The kids may not be the best judge of when they are ready to get back to their sport. It is important, Almanza said, for parents to be educated on what to watch for and how to help them recover.