Millions of teenagers participate in high school sports every year, and injuries are just part of the game, so to speak. Injuries happen across all sports from high-contact games to non-contact events, and range from mild (muscle strains) to extreme (traumatic brain injury).
Injuries affecting young athletes fall into several categories, and no matter which sport your teen athlete participates in, parents should be aware of each type of potential injury.
Caused by a sudden trauma, acute injuries typically arise from collisions with obstacles on the field or between players. Common acute injuries among young athletes include fractures, bruises, sprains (a tear of a ligament) and strains (a tear of a muscle or tendon). Football, basketball and soccer players are prone to this type of injury.
Not all injuries are caused by a single incident. The onset of overuse injuries is gradual, due to repetitive athletic movement. When any given motion is repeated frequently and the body is not given enough time to heal, injury can eventually occur. Overuse injuries can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and growth plates.
Stress fractures are also common in young athletes. Adolescents’ bones are constantly regenerating. If an athlete’s activity places undue and repeated stress on the body, old bone is weakened before new bone can replace it and stress fractures can occur (most often in the shin bone and bones of the feet). Athletes involved in sports that involve repetitive high-impact motion on hard surfaces, like cross country running and basketball, may be prone to stress fractures.
Catastrophic Sports Injuries
Even with training, proper safety equipment and strict supervision, young athletes are at risk for severe injuries to the head and neck that can cause damage to the brain or spinal cord, including paralysis and loss of motor skills. It is important for coaches, parents and athletes to be aware of the regulations for each sport to prevent head and neck injury.
Catastrophic injuries have been reported in a wide range of sports, including ice hockey, wrestling, football, soccer, cheerleading and gymnastics.
Concussions are mild brain injuries caused by a blow to the head or body that results in the brain moving rapidly back and forth inside the skull. While concussion is most often associated with sports like football, ice hockey and soccer, they can occur in any recreational activity.
It is recommended that young athletes with concussions be examined and cleared by a doctor trained in assessing sports concussions before returning to sports.
Growth Plate Injuries
Growth plates are areas of developing cartilage tissue near the ends of long bones. Because growth plates are the last portion of bones to harden, they remain vulnerable to fracture. Injury to the growth plate can cause disruption of bone growth and bone deformity. Growth plate injuries occur most often in contact and high impact sports.
Regardless of the sport your young athlete participates in, many injuries can be prevented through proper conditioning, training, equipment and coaching supervision. As a parent, understanding the types of injuries that can occur will help you to take the right steps for immediate care and and recovery so you return your athlete to the sport he or she loves.