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Injury Prevention for Youth Athletes


Shin splints, knee pain, ankle pain and overall soreness is often a sign of needing new shoes.

It's winter, schedules are packed and kids sports are in full swing. I am talking every weekend booked, parents camping out in gyms, domes or rinks, and competitive sports now reaching the elementary age with a vengeance.  

The statistics are there -- having your child involved in sports has many benefits including regular physical activity, learning how to participate in a team enviroment, accountability, responsibility and a positive outlet for the bountiful energy kids possess.

But, with competitive sports -- many of them turning into a 12-month commitiment rather than a season commitment as in years past -- also comes injuries earlier than ever.

As parents, it is our job to gauge how much is too much, when our child's body needs a break, and signs to look for with overuse, overtraining and pain. It is also our job to do everything we can to prevent it, and there are steps you can take to be proactive.

1.  Get your child involved in a pre-season conditioning activity that is NOT the actual sport they are training for.

When I tell parents this advice, they often look at me puzzled. Why would I not have them pre-season train with the actual sport?  

Imagine this ... you are preparing for a marathon and as part of your conditioning, the first thing you do is go run a marathon. Sounds crazy, right? Just like we have to get our bodies conditioned for sports-specfiic goals, so do our kids. Training should include balance/core training, endurance training, flexibility, agility and strength.  

Example: In preparation for hockey season, spend a couple of weeks training like this:

  • 60 seconds agility ladder high knees (can also use swim noodles or create a ladder on the ground with tape)

  • 60 seconds of reverse body weight lunges

  • 60 seconds of Right foot agility speed hops in place

  • 60 seconds of planks

  • 60 seconds of Left foot agility speed hops

  • 60 seconds explosive frog jumps up & down room

Go through 4 times

2.  Perform "Active Rest" on off day.

Sounds like an oxymoron, right?  But "Active Rest" is a great way to keep moving on your off day, but also stay loose, flexible and prevent soreness.


  • Walk the dog for 30 minutes

  • Play on a swingset for 30 minutes

  • 30 Minute Bike Ride

  • 30 Minutes Playing in the snow

3.  Take it One a Time.

For kids who excel in multiple sports, I know it is tempting to have them play multiple sports competitively in the same season. BUT, doing this increases the likelihood of sports-specific injuries by 60 percent.  

Cross training is extremely valuable in staying fit and avoiding boredom -- but playing two sports at a competitive level often cause excess muscle strain and does not allow your child's body the time it needs to rest properly.

Solution: Play one competitive sport per season and play the alternate sport casually if in the same season.

4. Buy the right shoes and replace every three months.

Every sport requires a different type of shoe that keeps the foot stable and supported during the specific movement required for that sport. Shin splints, knee pain, ankle pain and overall soreness is often a sign of needing new shoes.  

Solution:  Have your child wear the shoes around your house for a day or two and save your receipt. Simulate sports moves wearing the shoes to ensure they are stable and will be comfortable and effective.

Also, replace every three months -- the $50 shoes and $200 shoes both break down at the same rate, so keep that in mind when shopping.

5.  Make Sure your coach understands the proper way to warm up and cool down properly.

I can't tell you how many times I see coaches warming up their players the "old school" way -- primarily starting with "static stretches," which are stretches that hold a stretch for an 8-10 second count. WRONG!

Think of your muscles as a hard piece of taffy. Stretching that brittle taffy can cause muscle tears, injuries and pain.

Instead, warm up with "dynamic stretches," which are moving stretches that slowly warm up that taffy -- or our muscles.

Static stretches should not be skipped at the end of the game . . . once the muscles are warm, take the time for that long 8-10 second stretch per muscle area.

Solution: Warmups should be loose exercises such as arm circles, high knees, hip openers, slow lunges, light jog, knee pushups, etc. For the cool down, hold stretches for an 8 second count, incorporating the exhale with the stretch.

6.  Stay Hydrated.

Make sure your child stays hydrated before, during and after practice and games. Players should drink water 30 minutes before being active and at least every 15 to 20 minutes during the activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that an 88-pound child should drink 5 ounces every 20 minutes and a 132-pound child should drink 9 ounces every 20 minutes.

A child who experiences cramps, faintness or dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, or high body temperature may be suffering from dehydration. 

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Athlete Health