Sports Injury Prevention in Kids | Ivy Rehab

Sports Injuries in Kids 

Sports Injury Prevention in Kids 

As the world begins to open up and children can once again safely play individual and team sports, it is important that we re-focus on preventing injuries in children. Over the past year, sports safety has been directed at the prevention of germ and viral spread among athletes.  Now that masks are coming off, it’s time to prioritize other physical issues in young athletes. 

A young athlete is susceptible to injury first and foremost due to a hiatus from physical education classes and regular practices, their bodies may not be ready for the intensity of movement. Along with muscles and joints becoming accustomed to the stresses and strains of sport-related movement, cardio-pulmonary conditioning needs to be carefully incorporated into practice. Working on stamina and endurance is a very important part of preventing sports injury. In addition, physical therapy for athletes should become implemented as a prevention strategy among young athletes. 

Another high-risk behavior in young athletes is very high intensity, repetitive, focused movements, fine tuning a specific activity in a body that is still developing. Overuse syndromes result from unilateral (one-sided) movements such as repeated swinging of a tennis racket, hockey stick or golf club without balanced activity and strengthening of the opposite direction. Young pitchers that complain of elbow pain after a game may be showing a red flag – too much stress on growth plates and growing tendons and muscles can cause permanent damage and fibrous/ scar development in soft tissue. Bones grow faster in children than muscles, and most often this process is not exactly symmetrical from side to side – perfectly normal.  This uneven development makes children and teenagers more likely to suffer from overuse syndromes. 

What are Overuse Syndromes?

Overuse syndromes develop over time, and the signs and symptoms occur in phases. Understanding each one of these phases is the first step in sport injury prevention.  

Phase 1: Pain is experienced in an area of the body after the activity stops  

Phase 2: Pain happens during activity, but it doesn’t impact playing 

Phase 3: Pain happens during activity, and it begins to restrict activity 

Phase 4: Pain is chronic, ongoing – during activity or rest 

How can parents and coaches prevent common sports injuries in young athletes? The keys to sport injury prevention are communication, balance, and a well-rounded healthy lifestyle.   

Tips for Preventing Common Sports Injuries in Children and Young Adults 

Start with a pre-season physical:

Screening professionals can assess for silent heart issues and developing orthopedic issues such as scoliosis.  Kids who play heavy contact sports may benefit from a concussion pre-screen to establish a baseline of reaction times. 

Get plenty of sleep:

Sleep is an important time when our body repairs and resets itself.  Getting 8 hours minimum of sleep will give your body the time it needs to repair itself.  

Eat a balanced diet:   

A solid balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is absolutely essential for growing muscles, vessels, bones and other tissue.  It is not advised that children partake in protein or carbo loading, or even limit good fats. Fats that are found in olive oil, avocados and nuts are essential for nervous system development.  

Physical preparation:  

Light stretching before intense competition is recommended –even 5 minutes with longer stretches – no bobbing! – is helpful.  

Keep the communication lines open:

Don’t underestimate the stress of competition or think that your child is going to share aches and pains. Watch and listen to catch any injuries before they become serious. 

Encourage cross training:

The more sports and an activities a child plays, the better the motor development and balance in the musculoskeletal system as they grow. Encourage your child to participate in a number of different sports to help them develop their skills and muscles. 

Increasing training time:

Increasing training time is integral to building both endurance and strength. Just be sure you aren’t exceeding more than a 10% increase per week 

Time off

Getting time off from sports is so important for children to avoid injuries. Experts advise 3 months off from any specific sport per year to help prevent sports injuries. 

Keep it fun:   

Brains and bodies are connected, and when a young person is feeling stress and pressure, athletic injuries are more likely. Keep each activity fun and light-hearted to remove stress from the situation. 

Common Overuse Injuries

Common overuse areas in young adults typically occur where cartilage and tendon meet the bone and  include conditions such as: 

  • Shoulder impingement – This is a condition where the shoulder is painful as the child lifts his/ her arm over their head. This shoulder injury can be caused by repetitive activity that leads to inflammation in one of the pressure-relieving structures in the joint – a bursa.   
  • Plantar fascitis – Foot pain in the arch or even the heel can happen due to tight calf and foot muscles or specific weaknesses or athletic shoes that are not right for the sport or foot.   
  • Hip and groin pain –  Bursitis may cause pain in the outside of the hip or a chronic strain front /inside hip and upper thigh can cause difficulty with running, climbing stairs, or any one legged activity. 
  • Stress fractures – Often difficult to diagnose initially, stress fractures require an x-ray to definitively determine that a stress fracture has occurred. When the growth plate in a developing bone is under too much repetitive stress, small breaks in the bone can occur.  Generalized pain, during and activity, are indicators that a stress fracture should be considered.   
  • Lower back – This pain may be a sign of imbalance in stabilizing structures or weakness in muscles. Young gymnasts need to be checked to be sure a portion of the vertebrae, the spinal bones that surround the spinal cord, have not slipped forward due to extreme postures and joint stresses 

Preventing Injuries Early

Rehabilitation physical therapy is a great method for early detection of overuse injuries or muscle or joint imbalances that may place a young athlete at risk for overuse injury. With great communication between kids and their parents, coaches, and the medical community, unnecessary pain or lost time playing favorite sports can be avoided. The more competitive a child is, the more important attention to injury prevention should be. Be sure and find a local physical therapist to perform a sports injury screening and help your child grow in a healthy and balanced way.  


Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA 

Ivy Rehab Network

Holly is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network with more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deuer is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University

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