Finally! School and sports are a go for many in the fall. That means it’s time to get kids connecting again and safely ready for play.
It has been awhile, to say the least.
The buzz of children in classrooms. The cheer of sports fans in the stands. The melding of work and play. It all has become somewhat of a distant memory for many families in the past year.
Now, as the country opens back up, families are once again preparing for in-person learning, getting back to the playing fields, and just being active. It will surely feel good to get moving, but “first things first” cautions one local orthopedic surgeon.
“Many of us have been less active than usual since the pandemic hit,” says Lindsey Dietrich, M.D., of Sideline Orthopedics and Sports, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice in Arlington. “So there’s a need to get the body to be ready to participate in sports again.”
“Habits have changed over the course of the last year, and those habits might have led to some muscle imbalances,” she adds. “Youths who haven’t been in conditioning mode or cross-training for multiple sports for some time will need to slowly rebuild their stamina before swinging a bat, throwing a football or re-engaging in sports some other way. The last thing any parent wants is for their child to experience an injury halfway through a season when the child has been chomping at the bit to play for months or longer.”
As an advocate for healthy bones and active lifestyles, Dr. Dietrich wants to ensure young athletes are able to enjoy their sports for a whole season. Too often passion for the game and willingness to push a young body to the highest-level results in injury. Dr. Dietrich recommends that before children get back to sports activities this school year, families first take a few steps to promote safe play.
The Basics of Healthy Activity
- Start by having a physician or athletic trainer do an assessment of current health. A plan can then be created that will focus on those muscle groups and movements most beneficial for performance.
- A pattern of combined run/walk (ie. Couch to 5k) workouts is a way to get the body built back up. Running until it gets too hard, walking until it gets too easy and repeating as necessary is a good rule of thumb, according to Dr. Dietrich.
- Work in some interval training, which means alternating bursts of higher intensity with short periods of recovery.
- Set realistic goals to reduce the risk of early injury.
“Young athletes who are well conditioned and properly trained will be more likely to weather a season of intense, competitive play without serious injury and fatigue,” Dr. Dietrich says.
Should an injury occur during sports play, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine offers some guidelines for safe return to the game. The return-to-play process begins with a young athlete getting back to school and their other regular activities. Dietrich notes, however, that it is up to the child’s health care team to give the final green light for when to release a patient for play.
Guidelines for Play, Re-Injury Prevention
- Movement should be pain-free. If something still hurts, it shouldn’t be used.
- For lower-body injuries, bearing full weight on an injured hip, knee or ankle without limping is key.
- For upper-body injuries, executing a throwing movement with proper form and no pain is key.
- Swelling is a sign of inflammation, so any evidence of it means it’s too early to return to sports.
- Compare the injured part with its uninjured part on the opposite side of the body to see if full range of motion and good strength have been regained.
“Keep in mind that even when your young athlete feels 100 percent, his or her strength, joint stability, flexibility or skill may be lagging. Plan to have them work back into full sports and exercise goals gradually, consult with your child’s physician if any problem persists,” Dr. Dietrich says.
To learn more about the risks of returning to play too early, visit TexasHealth.org/SportsMedicine.
Sideline Orthopedics & Sports is a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. Providers employed by Texas Health Physicians Group are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources hospitals.