If you have a child who plays sports, then you share my excitement for them when they play the game. You probably also share my apprehension about injuries. I recently witnessed one of my daughter’s teammates tear her ACL in a soccer game in a non-contact play. It was heart wrenching. In fact, this caused me to look at the latest research for ways to prevent this from happening to my child and to other children.
The Research Is Revealing
My daughter’s teammate is not alone. There are nearly 150,000 ACL injuries in the U.S. each year (American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine). 70% of those are non-contact injuries involving landing or cutting. Females are 2-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males. Worse still: 1 in 4 go on to have another knee injury later.
One study (American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014) looked at re-injury rates in 750 people after 5 years and found that of the 561 people who finished the study, 4.5% had their graft repairs tear and 7.5% tore the ACL in the other knee. What I found most disturbing is that the highest incidence of further injury occurred in the people who had their first surgery before 20 years of age!
I looked at several studies going back 15 years. They all conclude about the same things when it comes to injury prevention: a program of education, strength, flexibility, sport specific agility drills and plyometrics [aka: jump training] help to prevent injuries.
You might well ask: If we know that is the case, then why haven’t we taken the recommended actions to reduce the number of injuries –the rate of which are basically unchanged in the past 10 years? There are a number of reasons, and perhaps one of them is because we parents assume this is part of the coach’s job.
Truth be told, though, we really expect coaches to focus on technical training –that will help our children gain proficiency and expertise. Sure, they want to reduce injuries, too, but they can’t do it all and most don’t have degrees in injury prevention. So, if the coach can’t do it, who can? Well, if you are lucky enough to have a certified athletic trainer at your school, that helps. But for me, the “aha!” from the research is that injury prevention falls first and foremost on my shoulders as a parent.
What a Parent Can Do –And Should Not Try Do
To get a better handle on what I can do, I spoke with Kyle Sweeney, Personal Trainer and Performance/Fitness Consultant at Fitness Matters. Kyle worked with collegiate lacrosse, soccer, tennis and football players at the University of Pittsburg and Northwestern University. He told me that your child athlete’s best training tool is BODY AWARENESS. “Learning how to decelerate and land from a jump are just some of the important skills to learn that can help with performance and safety,” Kyle explained.
The research backs this up.
There are various screening tools to assess an athlete’s ability to hop from a box, jump and land. Athletes who have poor control or have asymmetries right to left were correlated with greater injury risk. (Chorbe et al N AmJ Sorts Phys Ther 2010; Padue et al AJSM 2009).
Kyle’s pre-season program is a progressive one starting with teaching body control in static positions, progressing to linear jumping drills and plyometrics. Then, the young athletes are taught to apply the learned techniques to deceleration activities in their sport, while all along maximizing strength and joint range of motion. This type of program needs to be ongoing to be effective (Padue et al AJSM 2012) and typically works best if done 2-3 times per week pre- season and 1 time per week in season.
Mind and Body Make the Winning Combination
So why can’t we just give our children a packet of drills to do on their own or take them to the gym ourselves? After all, I was a pretty good athlete in my day… Well, one reason is psychological. They need to understand the serious purpose of the activities and be 100% committed to what they are learning and doing. One way to do that is to work with a professional.
The second reason is about what is known as “motor memory”. Form is everything and it takes a trained eye to recognize and teach form, such as good landing mechanics and deceleration skills so that they become a part of motor memory. The bottom line is: If your child practices good jump-landing techniques s/he may have better form and motor memory to handle knee joint loading forces (Meyer et al. Am J Sports Med 2013).
As we head into fall and winter sports, let’s give our kids the best opportunity for an injury free season. I urge you to do what I’m doing: seek out a body awareness/training professional who can teach them to stay in the game they love!
There IS something you can do about the pain!
A patient came to see me a few weeks ago who suffered with pelvic pain for 27 weeks during her pregnancy thinking, “There is nothing I can do about it.” Turns out she is not alone. Many women think lower back (LBP) and pelvic girdle pain (PGP) are just one of the many blessings of pregnancy.
The Fitness Matters team is excited to welcome Kyle Sweeney to the team! Kyle earned his Bachelor of Science at the University of Toledo with a focus in Health Preparation Human Performance. After college Kyle spent time at both the University of Pittsburgh and Northwestern University helping to train and strengthen the University athletes.
Please read his full bio here for more info.
The Fitness Matters Team is excited to introduce our newest team member, Holly
Holly earned her BS in both Physical Therapy and Exercise Science at The Ohio State University. Since graduating, her experience has primarily been in outpatient orthopedics treating a variety of injuries from low back pain to post operative patients. She provides treatment focusing on hands-on manual therapy and exercise based programs. Therapy, in combination with other services offered at Fitness Matters, will help patients reach their full potential. As a two time Boston Marathon finisher, Holly takes a special interest in running related injuries. Encouraging patients to believe in themselves and fully participate in their rehab program is key to a successful outcome and a healthy lifestyle.