Keeping Student Athletes Safe and in The Game

Ross Budacki, MD

Student athletes everywhere are giving their all for fall sports: cross country, field hockey, football, soccer, tennis, cheerleading. While these are all great activities, each sport has its own common injuries.

For long-distance running and kids on the cross-country teams, we see a lot of overuse injuries, including strains and aches, as well as more significant injuries like stress fractures. Often the injuries occur during the training period, at the beginning of the season; if the teens overdo it, that’s when we see stress reactions and injuries to the bones.

For soccer, we see a lot of ankle sprains, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and tears. Any sports that require pivoting or cutting movements put athletes at risk of ACL or meniscus tears. To protect against this, coaches or trainers can teach players some techniques that strengthen the musculature around the knees, correct their jump mechanics, and offer other strategies to protect against injury.

This is particularly important for girls — because of their build, girls tend to get more ACL injuries than boys. If you have a daughter who plays soccer, I’d recommend looking into preventive training regimens like these.

Listen to your body

To avoid injuries, the most important thing to do is to listen to your own body. Everyone is different, and some bodies can handle more stress than others. More than a coach or parent, it is the student athlete who knows the most about their own bodies. I advise them that if you can push it and you’re comfortable, that’s fine; but if you’re pushing yourself to meet someone else’s standards, that’s when you get injured.

If you do end up with a sprain, strain, or minor aches, remember the acronym RICE for treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Taking ibuprofen will help, too.

If things don’t improve, start with a visit to your primary care physician. They’ll know if you need to consult an orthopedist.

Be proactive

Parents and coaches play a major role in keeping student athletes fit. They should encourage them to:

  • Maintain a healthy balance between school and sports, with academics coming first.
  • Eat a nutritious, well-rounded diet, with enough calories so their bodies can repair and build muscle.
  • Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Dehydration problems commonly come up in training, not in the games themselves. It’s more common in pre-season, when athletes are pushing themselves hard to get in shape.
  • Stretch before and after physical activity. The warm-down period is the one that people tend to skip, but it is important for everyone.

Throughout your life, the most important way to prevent injury is to stay active. No matter what age, if you stay active you’re more likely to maintain your health. You’ll have the medical benefits and psychological benefits that evidence shows us we gain from exercise, and you’ll lessen your chances of injury.

If you are injured, our team can help. Learn more about sports medicine here.

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