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For many kids, especially those in middle and high school, back to school also means back to sports. After a summer break filled with relaxing, and bodies that may have experienced significant growth and changes over the summer, fall is a time when kids are especially susceptible to sports injuries.

Here’s a true example: A boy entering high school this year began attending preseason soccer practice in late summer. He started experiencing pain and inflammation just below the patella (kneecap) on both legs. The likely culprit? Osgood Schlatter disease—a common cause of knee pain in growing adolescents.

In this case, the boy had grown 4 inches over the summer and that rapid growth combined with an abrupt increase in training intensity was too much for his body to handle. Recovery will require ice, rest, and stretching. 

As kids go back to school, it’s important for parents, coaches, and Athletic Trainers to remember that the adolescent body is growing and changing, and they need to be mindful of those changes and the ways in which they can affect an athlete’s ability to perform. Being aware and vigilant can enable adults to catch injuries early to prevent long-term damage and keep kids healthy and active rather than in the training room or sitting on the sidelines.

According to recent studies, about half of all pediatric sports-related injuries are due to overuse or repetitive trauma. Fortunately, many of those injuries can be avoided with some simple preventative measures.

Follow these guidelines to prevent injuries in adolescent athletes:

Make an appointment for a physical before the season starts. Having a full checkup before the start of any serious sports training will be helpful in case any issues develop during the season, and can alert parents and coaches to any areas of concern.

Tell student athletes to notify an adult of any pain or unusual symptoms. Kids often keep quiet when they are in pain in order to continue playing or because they think they should “tough it out.” Encourage kids to tell their parents, coaches, or Certified Athletic Trainers if they experience any pain, swelling, or uncomfortable muscle tightness.

Don’t go overboard with training. As indicated by the name, repetitive stress injuries are due to repeating the same action or activity. Though there is no hard and fast rule for how many repetitions is too many, one study found that pediatric athletes should be limited to no more than 16 to 20 hours of vigorous activity per week.

Take time off. For children and adolescents, adequate rest periods between sports seasons and training sessions is crucial to enabling the body to recover. Youth athletes should have at least 1-2 days off from practices and games every week. Those who participate in the same sport year round (which is not encouraged for younger athletes) should take a 2-3 month break every year.

Increase intensity slowly. Preseason or in-season training to increase balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination is an excellent way to prevent overuse injuries, but it’s important not to do too much too soon. Experts suggest increasing training intensity, time, and distance just 10% per week until they reach full activity level.

For more information or to take a quiz to determine the risk of injury for you or your child, visit the At Your Own Risk website, developed by the National Athletic Trainer Association.

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