Many people are looking forward to returning to some form of the normalcy we had before the coronavirus pandemic led to a global lockdown. For some parents, that sense of normalcy includes preparing their children for returning to sports. With schools making the decision to open back up in a few weeks, many parents and children are gearing up for the return of youth sports.
There are, however, some concerns from both parents and sports physicians about the proper way to re-introduce child athletes to their beloved activities without injury. According to sports physicians, there has been a sudden rush of injuries occurring with young athletes who decide to just jump headfirst into their recreational activity instead of making a gradual return.
What is deconditioning?
Is this sudden rise in injuries due to negligence on the part of the parents or children? Absolutely not. It is safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic altered everyone’s daily routines. When children experience periods of inactivity, it can cause a process known as deconditioning to occur. With deconditioning, the body goes through physiological changes that cause the muscles to weaken and impacts overall stamina. As a result, the muscle memory that the child athlete built up gradually declines.
Easing your child back into a routine
Because the child’s body will need time to properly rebuild the muscles, it can be harmful to just throw a child back into a recreational sport without a gradual warm-up. Even though bodies are compared to machines as references, it does not mean that they have the capacity to act as a machine. Bodies have to gradually ease back into a routine or activity. Children who are just rushed back into a conditioning process are the ones who are more susceptible to overuse injuries.
What are overuse injuries?
Overuse injuries are injuries in children that are caused by repeated stress of a muscle group or joint. Even though overuse injuries can occur at all ages, children are at a greater risk of succumbing to these types of injuries because their bodies are still developing. These types of injuries have the ability to impact various parts of the body such as bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. What makes overuse injuries so dangerous is that they first appear as mild discomfort or pain, and then become worse over time. If the injuries are caught and treated early, they will not cause severe pain to children; however, if the child plays through the pain, it can establish long-term problems for the child.
A quick note about heat injuries
With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the risks of heat-related illnesses and injuries are high, especially for student athletes who are practicing for football. If even one coach pushes the kids too hard, dozens of students can suffer. The Oklahoma Secondary Sports Athletic Association (OSSAA) has a very detailed policy to deal with heat for student athletes, which includes mandates about the length of practices, open water policies, and other safety regulations. You can access that policy here. USA Football, a major governing body for youth football, also outlines how coaches can keep players safe in excessive heat.
What are the causes of overuse injuries in children?
Some of the causes of overuse injuries involve ramping children up too quickly in an activity, inadequate rest or recovery time, repetitive or excessive movements, and playing one sport year-round. Sports physicians recommend that child athletes need at least six weeks to gradually get back into their sport.
Because the process of deconditioning has occurred, overuse of a child’s muscles can lead to too much stress and strain on the child’s body. Children can also place too much stress and strain on their bodies if they continue to play one sport at an early age. Repeatedly using the same muscles, joints, and tissues can increase the chance of the child developing an overuse injury.
Tips on avoiding overuse injuries
To help children avoid the increase of overuse injuries, parents and coaches must ease the children gradually back into the recreational sport. Remember, child athletes need about six weeks to ease back into a sport. One of the most integral actions a parent can take is to take their child’s level of athletic ability before the start of the pandemic and divide it in half. That standard will be the standard for the child to work up to when they begin the sport.
For example, if a child was running for a mile a day before the pandemic, the parent would only allow the child to run for half of a mile each day instead of the regular mile. In the upcoming weeks, the parent can increase the child’s activity by about ten percent. That means the child can begin to run 60 percent of a mile, then 70 percent of a mile, and so on. By the time that the child reaches the sixth week, the child will be able to run an entire mile without the possibility of an overuse injury occurring.
Physicians also advise parents to pay attention to whether their child is experiencing pain during the conditioning process. When a child is experiencing pain, that is the way in which the child’s body is signaling that something is wrong and that something should not be happening. It is best when the child is experiencing pain from an activity that the child backs off from the activity until the pain stops. After the pain stops, the child athlete can then return to increasing their activity.
A quick note about children’s growth plates
A child’s growth plate is an area of new bone growth in children and teenagers. Children’s growth plates are still open until the age of 15 for girls and until the age of 17 for boys. These growth plates are more fragile than mature bone due to the fact that they are made of cartilage, making them weaker and more susceptible to injury.
If a child’s growth plate is fractured, it can impact the way the bone will grow. An improperly treated growth plate fracture can result in a fractured bone with a more crooked appearance. Depending on the severity of the overuse injury and whether it is treated properly, damage to your child’s growth plate can impact their potential bone growth.
Was your child injured in their return to sports? If so, it’s important that you seek legal representation to protect their rights. To discuss your child’s legal rights with an experienced Tulsa childhood injury lawyer, please call us at 918-574-8458 or fill out a contact form. We represent children throughout Oklahoma, including in Broken Arrow, Bixby, Claremore, Jenks, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Wagoner, and Muskogee. We handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.