Baseball/softball season is a fun time for young people and their parents and caregivers, but it’s also a time to be on the lookout for injuries. Children sustain two types of injuries in playing sports: acute and overuse. Acute injuries usually result from a single, traumatic event and can include fractures, sprains or dislocations. Overuse injuries are more difficult to diagnose and treat because they are more subtle and occur over time. They occur when repetitive trauma affects the tendons, bones and joints. These injuries include tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis and stress fractures.
Alex Beelen, PT, DPT, physical therapist with St. Mary’s Physical Therapy-Barboursville and St. Mary’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, stresses there are things that parents and caregivers can do to help prevent many sports injuries:
• Encourage your child to warm up properly before an activity. Warming up involves gradually bringing the heart rate up from the resting level by engaging in low-impact exercise, such as jogging in place. Athletes should also stretch their muscles to release tension and help prevent injury. “When stretching, athletes should go just beyond the point of resistance without bouncing and hold the stretch for 10-12 seconds,” Beelen said.
• Be sure your child cools down properly after an activity. “Cooling down after an activity is important because it allows an athlete’s heart rate to gradually return to a resting level,” Beelen said. Stretching can also be beneficial during cool down to help avoid injury.
• Obtain instruction on proper training and technique. “Coaches and trainers are there to help teach proper technique and avoid injuries,” Beelen said. “It’s important that your child listens to their instructions because most overuse injuries occur because of improper training or technique.” For kids who are baseball or softball pitchers, a great way to make sure they are using proper technique is by taking video of the child’s motion. Beelen has been able to help young pitchers by analyzing their technique and offering tips to reduce injury.
• Increase training gradually. “It’s important not to push your child too hard too fast,” Beelen said. A good rule of thumb is the 10 percent rule: Do not increase training activity, weight, mileage or pace by more than 10 percent per week. This allows the body ample time to recover.
• Have your child wear equipment that fits properly. Make sure your child’s equipment is in good condition and fits properly. Something as simple as weekly equipment checks may help minimize the potential for injury. Equipment includes helmets, pads, mouth guards and shoes.
• Be sure your child drinks enough water.
Athletes often forget to hydrate—an essential step for the body to run well. Hydration allows muscles to work properly and avoid cramps and spasms. Make sure your child takes water breaks every 30 minutes or more often based on the level of activity and temperature.
• Encourage your child to rest and take a break. Athletes who play sports year-round are more likely than others to experience overuse injuries because they aren’t giving their bodies a chance to rest and recover. “Encourage your child to take at least one season off a year,” Beelen said. “Also, encourage your child to play different sports during the year to avoid using the same muscle groups continuously, because that can also lead to overuse injuries.”
• Wear sunscreen to protect the skin from repeated exposure to the sun during practice and games.
Signs of injury
Beelen said it’s important for parents to be on the lookout for injuries. “Most children will let someone know when they are hurt, but some kids will try to tough it out,” Beelen said.
Here are some signs of injury that parents and caregivers should look for:
• Avoiding putting weight on a certain body part (i.e. ankle or wrist) or favoring one side of the body over the other
• Appearing to be in pain when using a particular part of the body
• Inability to sleep
• Shortness of breath or trouble breathing during activity
• Headaches during or after activity
• Appearing to experience stiffness in the joints or muscles
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Difficulty sitting and/or climbing stairs
• Inability to feel the fingers or toes
• Experiencing unusual weakness
• Irritated skin and/or blisters
If a child experiences sharp, stabbing pain, he or she should stop the activity immediately.
The sooner an injury is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated and the sooner an athlete can return to playing. “Playing through pain may make the injury worse and will probably cut your child’s season short,” Beelen said. “If you have any concerns that your child might be injured, see your doctor or speak to a certified athletic trainer as soon as possible.”
Dealing with an injury
If your child is diagnosed with an injury, it’s important to educate him or her on the risks of not following the recovery recommendations. “Not following the advice of a doctor or trainer can not only cut an athlete’s season short, it can also have future health consequence like arthritis,” Beelen said.
Beelen said it’s important for parents and caregivers to emphasize that playing sports is not just about winning a game, it’s also about being part of a team. “By following the directions for recovery, an athlete is helping his or her team,” he said.
Treatment of injuries
Coping with sports injuries often requires physical rehabilitation. Physical therapy helps athletes rebuild strength and movement in parts of their body after an injury. It can also help athletes manage pain and prevent permanent damage and recurring problems.
“As part of physical therapy, we can teach exercises, stretches and other techniques to address a patient’s specific problems,” Beelen said. “We can also see if a patient has any muscle weaknesses that can make him or her more prone to injury.”
Rehabilitation of an injured athlete must be carefully evaluated on a daily basis. Injuries are time dependent, so the healing process follows a pattern of phases. The physical therapist will diagnose which phase a patient is in and determine the treatment the patient should receive.
Beelen said the St. Mary’s team truly enjoys getting athletes back to the sport they love. “We take great pride in getting athletes safely back into the game because we know how much it means to them,” he said. “It means a lot to us too.”
For more information about St. Mary’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, including locations, visit www.st-marys.org.