Three Tips to Avoid Youth Sports Injuries this Fall

Autumn is upon us, and so are fall youth sports. As kids and teens begin their sports seasons — whether that’s soccer, cross country, football or dance — it’s important for parents, coaches and athletes to recognize common injuries and risk factors that can sideline young athletes. Here are some tips to keep kids and teens healthy while playing sports this season:

1. Diversify activity

Nowadays, many young athletes choose to play one sport year-round versus playing a different sport each season. “While focusing on one sport is great for skill development, repetitive movements, positions and postures can put a lot of strain on one’s body,” said Rebound physical therapist Matt Onderdonk (Bend South Clinic), a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist who has completed extensive coursework in kinetic control — a treatment method to address movement faults.

He often sees young athletes come in the clinic with patellofemoral (knee) and low back pain due to hyperextension or arching of the back while performing a sport. To prevent this type of injury, Onderdonk encourages young athletes to allow their muscles, tendons and surrounding tissue adequate time to recover in between intense training sessions or games. Rest days might include low-impact activities like deep water fitness and biking, or light strength training at home or in the gym.

2. Be mindful of growth spurts

As kids hit puberty, their body proportions change rapidly during growth spurts; longer limbs and a larger frame can lead to difficulty knowing where their bodies are in space, said Onderdonk. “Sometimes bones grow at a faster rate than the surrounding tissue, leading to injuries around the joints (shoulders, elbows, knees, heels),” Onderdonk explained. Additionally, growth plates (the area of cartilage located near the end of bones) are the last portion of a child’s bones to harden, which makes them more susceptible to injury.
A physical therapist can help identify and treat movement control issues common during puberty that are easily overlooked by parents and coaches. PTs have advanced training in assessing the coordination, strength and flexibility needed for a specific sport or task.


3. Keep sports fun

When a kid or teen is motivated to play a sport, they may be hesitant to let a parent or coach know about a seemingly minor injury. Unfortunately, “little injuries can turn into big injuries if they are not addressed,” said Onderdonk.

It’s important to educate young athletes on the importance of catching injuries early on instead of simply pushing through them and risk being out for the season, he added. “A big predictor of the success and longevity of young athletes is that we make an activity fun.”

While sports-related injuries are sometimes inevitable, physical therapists can be excellent resources for athletes, parents and coaches alike. “There’s help for injury management and ways to optimize a young athlete’s performance,” said Onderdonk. “One of my favorite things about being a PT is seeing my patients become more confident in moving and in their sport.”


Photo credits (top to bottom): Yuval Zuckerman via Unsplash; Leah Hetteberg via Unsplash