Millions of teens participate in sports every year, and just like professional athletes, many are injured. Interestingly, the rate at which teen athletes are injured is similar to that of professional athletes, but the injuries that affect teens are different from those that affect adults. This difference is mainly due to the fact that teenage athletes are still growing.
Growth during the teen years is usually uneven. The bones grow first, and thus they may pull excessively on the muscles and tendons. This uneven growth pattern can make teen athletes more susceptible to muscle and tendon injuries, as well as injuries to growth plates.
What kinds of injuries are high schoolers most likely to incur?
As with adults, the main types of injuries that teens suffer from include acute injuries and overuse injuries. Both of these types of injuries can involve muscles, ligaments, and bone.
- Acute Injuries are caused by sudden trauma, such as sprains and strains, collisions, contusions, falls and fractures.
- Overuse injuries develop gradually over time, due to poor technique and/or when the body does not have enough time to recover between sessions. Each sport has its own common overuse injuries; for example baseball players often develop elbow injuries, and gymnasts often develop wrist injuries.
Stress fractures are another common overuse injury in teen athletes. As new bone develops, it replaces older bone in a process called turnover. If a high school athlete trains too hard, his or her body cannot always make new bone fast enough to replace the old bone. This process weakens the bone, which can lead to stress fractures.
Growth plates are the last area of bone to stop developing. They are areas of cartilage that develop near the ends of the long bones. When an adolescent stops growing, those growth plates harden into bone. Growth plates are vulnerable to fracture during sports activity, and such fractures can disturb bone growth and result in deformity.
How should teenage sports injuries be treated?
Regardless of the type of injury (acute or overuse), sports injuries to adolescents that affect their performance should be seen by a qualified sports physical therapist. Left untreated, sports injuries can lead to permanent disability. Unfortunately, many teens downplay their injuries and insist that they are okay to play. Both parents and coaches need to work together to identify when teenagers have injuries, such as when they seem to be in pain or when they change form or technique.
A sports physical therapist will examine the injury and ask some questions about how it occurred and about the teen’s medical history. If needed, imaging tests may be performed, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging, to assess the state of the underlying bones and soft tissues.
Treatment for the injury will depend on a number of factors, including the location and extent of the injury. Treatment will likely include physical therapy, special exercises and stretches, and perhaps bracing or stabilizing. In cases of serious injury, surgery may be required.