Preventing or Reducing Long Term Overuse Injuries From Athletics
I have worked with an older sector of the population during my time as an owner of a small, personal training studio in Santa Rosa, California. Santa Rosa Strength began back in September of 2001, and since, we have completed over 100,000 individual training sessions. In the last 15 years I have worked with many individuals whose bodies are shot from a lifetime of “activities”. The ages of people who have had joint replacement surgeries are getting younger and younger. The number of people who are suffering from osteoarthritis (overuse) are getting younger in age as well. From the year 2000 to 2010, the number of hip replacements doubled amongst the 45 to 54 year olds in America. But this article isn’t for the 45 year olds…it’s for the parents of 12 year olds. We are making some big mistakes with regards to our desires for our kids in athletics. We are using the same drivers that have precipitated a national health crisis, and are passing it on to our kids. The number 2 reason for ER visits amongst adolescents and children is sports related injuries, and half of those are overuse injuries.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Physical activity is necessary for normal growth in children. However, when the activity level becomes too intense or too excessive in a short time period, tissue breakdown and injury can occur. These overuse injuries were frequently seen in adult recreational athletes, but are now being seen in children. The single biggest factor contributing to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries in young athletes is the focus on more intense, repetitive and specialized training at much younger ages.
Overuse injuries such as stress fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, apophysitis and osteochondral injuries of the joint surface were rarely seen when children spent more time engaging in free play. The following risk factors predispose young athletes to overuse injuries:
Sport specialization at a young age
Imbalance of strength or joint range of motion
Growth cartilage less resistant to repetitive microtrauma
Intense, repetitive training during periods of growth
If we, as parents and coaches, wish to pass on the joys of sporting activities to our kids, without guaranteeing them a lifetime of chronic pain, we should train smarter and engage in activities that protect them. If we know what causes these injuries, can we learn how to avoid them as well? What do we do?
One of the major factors to consider when training children is damage to the growth plates of the body. Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in children. The growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. Repetitive stress can lead to injury of the growth plate and disrupt the normal growth of the bone. Repetitive stress is caused by constantly running (like jogging to get in better physical condition), jumping (jumping rope or plyometric training), or performing a particular skill building activity over and over. It used to be said that Resistance Exercise would cause damage to these growth plates, however, this was never proven. In fact, it has been the opposite. Using methods that reduce force while loading the muscle structures, inducing fatigue quickly to reduce the duration of the activity, has shown to have a pronounced effect on the bodies of adolescents. A child who strength trains will:
Encourage Bone Growth
Thicken Tendons and Muscle Structures
Condition Cardiovascular Pathways
In turn, this will protect them from injury. If your child is participating in sports that require them to “jog” to get into “shape”, know that this is the reason for skyrocketing hip replacements, and jogging is a very poor stimulus for athletic change. Obviously if they are participating in cross country, cycling, or other endurance sports, the needs of these activities involve running. But training to run competitively in sports that involve sprinting, like baseball, football, and soccer, should NEVER be done at jogging speeds. This is because jogging, again, is a terrible training tool for sprinting activities. But…there is a better way.
Since 1984, there has been a training protocol known as Tabata Protocol, which was invented for the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team. It is one of the most intense, effective, cardio-metabolic conditioning programs ever devised, and is of extreme value to the young athlete. A child who uses this type of conditioning program will experience:
Significantly Improved Endurance
Improved Energy Production and Insulin Control
Protection From Damage to the Joints and Connective Tissues Caused by Overtraining (jogging 3 to 5 miles per day is overtraining)
Faster, Stronger Muscles
When discussing nutrition with athletes, we often are discussing how to assist recovery from training. To recover fully from the demands of sport, the nutrients found in foods like vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, meats and chesses, are what the body needs to fuel the many processes that are involved. Though children will grow with just about any diet, the ones that focus on Whole Food Organic Nutrition support the growth and recovery needs of the athlete. Cheap processed food, toxic ingredients, and chemical supplements will never beat out “food”…ever.
Warm-up, Stretching, Recovery
The demands of sport are intense and potentially injurious, due to the forces that the human body is exposed to during maximal effort. This requires persons engaging in sport to prepare for soreness and pain, and react accordingly if they wish to remain injury free. Back in 2013, The New York Times summed up the latest evidence suggesting that static stretching doesn’t prevent injuries, and actually impairs strength and speed in some athletes. This wasn’t exactly big news, and today I still see coaches putting young athletes through stretching routines before taking the field. With hamstring injuries being reported from all over the world in epidemic proportions, perhaps we should stop this practice and focus on what actually prevents injuries. The warm-up should involve sport specific movements that are performed at low levels of intensity while the muscles perfuse with blood, making them more flexible. I would show my martial arts students how their ability to perform the splits would increase from just standing in horse stance, which puts a great demand on the leg muscles. So…
Warm up properly using sport specific movements at low intensity, gradually building to performance levels.
After a game or competition, allow the body to cool down and do some light stretches, for now the body will not be subjected to force, and stretching has a positive effect on pain and recovery.
After stretching, ice any painful joints or muscles to reduce inflammation, and always remember that if it hurts after warming up, you are likely risking long term overuse injuries. Allow for complete recovery after games and in the off-seasons. In doing so, after years of sporting activities done for fun, the bodies of our children most likely won’t be left in a state of crippling overuse.
If you have a child that you are encouraging to participate in youth sports, and you don’t want them to suffer from horrible, life changing overuse injuries, then please follow the recommendations of the safest, most effective athletic training program ever devised. If you are a soccer player in Sonoma County, and you want to play at higher level, regardless of your current ability, please follow this plan.
Strength Train using a Low Force / Slow Movement Speed protocol like the one we use at Santa Rosa Strength
Train sprint speed and endurance capacity using HIIT methods like Tabata Protocol
Follow a diet that avoids sugar and chemicals. Sports drinks like Gatorade are unnecessary, and will stimulate inflammation unlike water. Water replenishes…Gatorade has sugar, oils, and chemicals, that will help to destroy the young athletes body.
Properly warm up, do light stretching after games, and allow for complete recovery of potential injuries.
Select Personal Coaches who have experience NOT ONLY in their respective sport, but who also have experience in how to properly train the body for the rigours of sport. If you have questions, or wish to work with me on a personal basis, please contact me at Santa Rosa Strength in Santa Rosa, CA. (707)539-2000