How to avoid sports injuries
Mr Chinmay Gupte, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon at The Portland Hospital, discusses common school sports injuries
Schools are a great place to encourage physical activity and an interest in sport, helping to ensure that young people have a healthy start in life. However, growing limbs and joints that are over-worked can be injured or struggle to take the strain, and this leaves children and teenagers prone to harm on the pitch or track.
From twisted knees to fractured fingers, accidents are on the rise among active under 16s, according to official figures from NHS Digital. There are a number of reasons that have contributed to this. Some children may try to undertake sports or activities at a level that aren’t appropriate for them. Others who play an excessive amount of sport without resting or appropriate muscle conditioning often don’t allow their bodies to recover.
Pain from strained muscles, nerves and tendons often from repetitive strain injuries tend to be an issue for adolescents playing sports six to seven days a week. These injuries generally occur during impact sports played on hard ground, such as basketball, gymnastics, bowling in cricket, running cross country, or athletics activities such as high jump or long jump.
Young people’s bones are still growing and sometimes at a faster rate than their muscles. If the pull on the ligament attaching muscles to the bone is excessive from constant exercise this causes inflammation and pain. Knees are particularly vulnerable to this type of strain.
To help mitigate against these types of injuries I always advise that young people follow the five/two rule during the week: a maximum of five days of impact sports and no less than two days of rest. If there is already mild pain then the rule can be adapted to “four/three”. This can seem difficult when children are practicing at a high level but it helps to restrict the amount of impact exercise that children undertake to ensure they have time for their bodies to rest and recover properly.
These tend to be a common hazard for young sporting enthusiasts and are often hard to avoid whatever sport students are playing.
Awkward twisting when kicking a ball or injuries on skis can damage the protective tissue called the meniscal cartilage or the cruciate ligament in the knee joint. Footballers are also at risk of ankle joint fractures, as are rugby players. Rugby players can also suffer from shoulder dislocations and collarbone fractures.
For cricketers, finger injuries and stress fractures of the back are a problem, whereas cross-country runners or children who race can suffer from shin pain (shin splints). This is triggered by repeated stress around the shins.
A badly swollen or extremely painful joint warrants a trip to the GP or A&E. Medical attention should be sought if the student can’t put weight on or move the affected limb or digit. Otherwise anti-inflammatory drugs and paracetamol can help.
Mr Chinmay Gupte
How can I prevent these injuries?
While it’s hard to avoid sports injuries completely, things like simply ensuring children have the appropriate footwear and sports equipment for the activity they are undertaking can be an easy step towards prevention. For example, ensuring that hockey sticks and tennis racquets are the right length or height for the children.
The right training can also help prevent injuries. The growing skeleton can benefit from appropriate stretching exercises in particular. Exercises that improve coordination and balance such as torso-strengthening also work well.
When accidents do happen
After an injury one of the most common questions is, when can a child start playing sport again? The answer depends on the type of treatment, the child’s condition and the speed of rehabilitation.
It’s better children take the time to recover, and this can mean anything from rest to doing exercises in the gym and avoiding aggravating movements. This will help ensure they can look forward to enjoying many years doing the sport they love.