A study of 2012 figures by Safe Kids Worldwide stated that 1.35 million children and teens in the US were sent to the Emergency Room due to sports related injuries (Safe Kids Worldwide, 2012). The injuries most commonly experienced by these youth athletes were sprains and strains, fractures, contusions and concussions. This number represented 1 in 5 of all 6-19 year olds who were estimated to have gone to the ER for an injury.
These numbers of course, don’t count the injuries that only require a visit to a specialist doctor instead of being rushed to the hospital for immediate care. Nor does it count the minor contusions and bruises that happen and cause discomfort but don’t have a lasting effect on the athlete’s ability to participate.
In terms of concussions, an injury which has been of great emphasis over the past few years because of the difficulties that it has been shown to cause, the numbers are stark. Another 2012 study showed that 12% of the ER visits were due to concussion, with nearly half of these being recorded in athletes between the ages of twelve and fifteen years old (USA Today, 2013). The effects of concussions on teenagers is especially important to note because research has shown that they take a longer time to recover from such an injury, and are at greater risk of experiencing another one of them.
In another surprising statistic, Safe Kids Worldwide found that 62% of injuries in organised sport took place in practice and not during competitive games. This statistic might have much to do with the fact that athletes generally do not approach warm up and stretching during practice sessions as rigorously as they do when getting ready to take part in games.
As mentioned in the post about early specialisation, teenage athletes who are stressing the same muscles, ligaments and tendons intensely all year around are at higher risk for injuries in these areas than the athletes who have specialised late or are playing multiple sports and engaging in cross training.
One study highlighted the increasing frequency of youth athletes experiencing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, one of the most serious athletic injury which used to be occur almost exclusively at the collegiate and professional levels, not during the teenage years. One such figure presented to the American Academy of Paediatrics based on information from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia put the increase at 400% (ABC News, 2011). Some professionals have attributed this increase to children playing more intensely and at more competitive levels at an earlier age.
Because teenage bodies are growing with the musculoskeletal structure not yet fully matured, the effects of over- exerted muscles and growth plates can have important consequences in the future. Some studies have identified injuries caused by overwork as having an effect on the body’s natural growth. This is one of the reasons why the Long- Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, which suggests delaying specialisation and the intense training that goes along with it until athletes reach their teenage years as opposed to the continuous stress of early specialisation, is well regarded in sports science circles.
Cross training, as has been mentioned before, can have an impact on injury frequency of athletes by varying the areas of mechanical stress and repetitive physical loading in the body.
Rest also plays an integral part in injury prevention, and it is for that reason that this has become an important area of focus for professional athletes. Getting adequate rest is especially important for youth athletes with growing bodies, as the body needs more time to recover. A well recovered body gets fatigued less easily, which is when athletes are more susceptible to muscle injuries.
Another aspect in reducing the frequency of injury is nutrition. It is vital that your body is provided with the right carbohydrates and fats to provide energy and prevent fatigue. Taking in the right proteins is also essential to aiding recovery. Taking in the right vitamins and minerals, for example calcium to build strong bones, is also an important part of the dietary needs which should be taken seriously.