Back to school means back to a busy sports schedule for many kids.
Before your young athlete heads back onto the field, though, it’s important to take some precautions. Long practices, juggling multiple activities and the sudden change in activity level can put kids at risk for injury.
The first thing to add to your back-to-school checklist as fall approaches? Schedule a sports physical appointment with your child’s primary care physician.
“I think that’s easily overlooked a lot of times,” says Dr. Britta Anderson, D.O., a family medicine and sports medicine specialist with the DMC Medical Group. “That’s vital to every kid’s initiation into sports and the school year. It’s a good time to make sure that everything’s in order.”
While sometimes assembly-line physicals are offered by sports teams, an individual sit-down with your child’s doctor is generally more ideal.
“They know them best and know their medical history,” Dr. Anderson says. “It’s more personable and gives more opportunity for individual treatments, education and recommendations.”
During a sports physical, the physician will go over the pre-participation form that’s required by the state and ask critical questions that are key to your child’s health and safety. In some cases, an additional visit with a specialist may be needed before a child can be cleared to play.
The visit is also a good time to talk with your child’s doctor about the signs of a concussion and what to do if you suspect one. Symptoms include headache, irritability, cognitive complaints and balance problems.
“You don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion,” Dr. Anderson explains, pointing out one of many misunderstandings about the traumatic brain injury that’s increasingly in the news.
Kids should understand the importance of reporting their injuries and know to look out for other players.
“It’s really the job of the parents and the coaches and also the teammates to be alert and protect the child. When in doubt, sit them out,” she emphasizes. If an injury does occur, “the most important thing is to have them seek an assessment by a physician experienced in concussions.”
As sports practices ramp up – especially while the weather’s still warm – parents should remind their kids to wear an SPF 30 sunscreen (or higher) and to stay hydrated. How to check hydration? Urine should be clear to very light yellow.
Overuse of muscles is another concern, especially for growing kids.
“The most common thing we find is overuse injury,” Dr. Anderson says, pointing out common injuries to the shoulders, elbows, knees and feet.
That’s especially true when kids start to specialize in a sport at an early age, playing it year-round without any breaks.
“That’s where we find some of these kids are breaking down earlier in their life,” she says. “All kids should have a month off from their primary sport a year.”
Dr. Brandon Kakos, M.D., an internal medicine, pediatrics and sports medicine specialist at the DMC Medical Group, agrees: “Ideally, we want to avoid early sports specialization and recommend against playing one sport year round,” he says.
The repetitive stress on the musculoskeletal system caused by performing the same type of movements continuously, such as throwing a baseball, football or kicking a soccer ball, can increase your risk for injury. This practice does not allow the bodies of young athletes to obtain adequate time off for rest and proper recovery.
“Additionally, I really try to stress to my young athletes and their parents proactive measures that can reduce their risk for overuse injuries,” Dr. Kakos says.
Some tips include:
- Avoid sudden increases in activity intensity or frequency
- Make sure you are wearing and using proper equipment for your respective sports
- Perform a dynamic warm-up prior to activity as well as stretching after so as to improve flexibility and strength
- Ensure that you are exhibiting proper technique for your respective sport (i.e. throwing, running or tackling, etc.)
One of the best things a young athlete can do is as simple as focusing on the basics: getting enough sleep, staying well hydrated and eating a well-balanced diet.
“It’s not only important for performance but it’s vital for injury prevention,” Dr. Kakos explains.
Most of all, kids need to listen to their bodies.
“The old mantra of ‘No pain, no gain’ is not necessarily the best advice to follow,” Dr. Kakos says. “Listen to your body. If you have an injury, don’t ignore it.”
The same goes for potentially life-threatening issues such as heart and lung disease.
“Chest pain while you exercise is not normal and that’s not something to push through. It definitely requires further evaluation,” says Dr. Kakos. “If you notice an acute change – whether it be decreased performance, shortness of breath, chest pain, limping or swelling you really should get evaluated by a sports medicine physician prior to continuing with activity.”
Kids may not know what’s normal or abnormal, so be sure to keep the lines of communication open.
“I would encourage all athletes to be open with their parents and coaches regarding any physical ailment as they can help to decipher if further evaluation is necessary. Obviously, not every ache and pain needs to be seen by a physician but making others involved can ensure a safe and satisfying sports season,” Dr. Kakos says. “The multiple physical, emotional and cognitive benefits of sports participation cannot be overlooked and it’s our goal to make sure all young athletes have a rewarding, safe and injury-free experience.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a specialist, call 313-910-9328 or visit DMCMedicalGroup.com.