There has been increased injury rates in youth sports, particularly increases in severe injuries such as ACL injuries. This is partly due to the increases of training loads, sport specialisation at young ages and higher expectations/ stress for success. One thing as a health professional that I am passionate about, is building good relationships and habits, with exercise/ physical activity at early ages. Constantly reoccurring injuries can play a negative role in keeping kids in sport. Hence why injury prevention protocols should be more widely performed.
With higher importance and stress on young athletes to perform, training loads are often particularly heavy, limiting time for adequate rest. This only takes into account the chosen sport and not all the other activities young athletes like to participate in. For example, if a Soccer player is trying to develop their skills to play at higher levels, they may be part of 2 or 3 teams per week with training on most days. This can occur whilst also training with a representative squad or development squad. The importance of managing training loads is extremely important. Overuse injuries can occur due to a build up in fatigue, when the body is overtrained or not allowed to rest adequately.
Sports specialisation can become an issue for young athletes with regards to developing injuries, particularly overuse injuries. This is due to the repetitive movements performed throughout sports. If certain muscles are continually strengthened during sporting movements, while other muscles are not strengthened at the same rate, this creates muscle imbalances which can cause injuries. This can occur in all areas from individual sports, to team sports. Allowing kids to play multiple sports with different movements and actions can help decrease biases towards certain muscles; whilst also encouraging the body to adapt and load different joints increasing strength and proprioception.
I have previously written about “injury prevention for Lower limbs” https://starttraining.net.au/injury-prevention-lower-limb/ This focused on injury prevention in general for lower limb injuries. Follow the link for a refresher. With one of the key messages from this article being there are many protocols currently available that teams and clubs can implement that will help decrease injuries on a wider scale. These are not limited to just adult programs or lower limb injuries. There are specific programs aimed at youth such as FIFA 11+ kids, goalkeeper specific programs FIFA 11 + goalkeepers. These are just examples of programs that are readily available. Many sports have released their own version of programs aimed at injury prevention, such as rugby, netball, Soccer (FIFA) to name a few.
Many of these programs are focused around Neuromuscular control (balance exercises and strength) and sport specific movements (cutting, change of direction etc). The focus of this approach is to increase the bodies ability to utilise the muscles with control while performing specific skills and movements. They are performed as a thorough warm up, activating key muscles, and transitioning into more dynamic movements such as sprinting. Other proprioceptive movements are performed; such as landing on a single leg, to facilitate correct landing techniques.
While having some strength exercises throughout these programs. There is a lack of particular focus on certain muscles which may need to be strengthened. If we are looking at a general team environment, it can be quite difficult to deliver enough strength-based exercises throughout a session, while keeping everyone focused and with correct technique.
To further explain the importance of injury prevention I shall split it into two parts. Neuromuscular control and Strength training.
- Neuromuscular control
When discussing neuromuscular control, we are meaning the ability of the body to control and use muscles. It is an unconscious response of the body to use muscles in dynamic joint stability. This uses strength, control, precision, endurance and coordination. The importance of this throughout sport means you can perform movements with stability and control, limiting injury risk. Two key factors that lead to a decrease in neuromuscular control is fatigue and strength. Even with decreased strength, the body with still perform the movement, however often in a more compromised position increasing forces placed throughout joints which can lead to injury. As fatigue builds, there is decreased ability to use muscles to perform movements, and decreased proprioception (awareness of the body through space and time). With impaired ability to stabilise, which is an important part of the more dynamic movements performed throughout sport, the risk of injury increases.
- Strength Training
As explained above strength plays a big role in neuromuscular control, while also impacting muscle imbalances that are developed throughout sport. Specific and individualised strength training is a great way to decrease the risk of injury.
There is a stigma around resistance training in adolescences which can limit the willingness of participation when performing strength-based programs, either from parents or the kids themselves. Before going into more specifics, when strength training is mentioned, this doesn’t mean heavy weights will always be used. Particularly throughout stages of growth/ maturation, certain considerations must be used when prescribing strength programs.
Programs to help build strength and reduce injury can be implemented quite young. These programs focus around body awareness, movement mechanics and body weight exercises. As kids continue to grow, weight may be used to help stimulate strength-based gains. Throughout growth spurts alterations for load management of training and resistance work needs to be taken into account. With increased hormones rapid periods of growth, care needs to be taken. However this doesn’t mean all training needs to cease. There is also a difference between male and female growth periods and considerations.
Here at START Training, we have many young, enthusiastic clients, who have either come in to improve performance or rehabilitate injuries. One consideration when dealing with injuries, is to try and stop future occurrence. This being the same injury occurring or other injuries that may develop from altered movement patterns or an overload on other muscles. Many, if not all, of our clients that have come through the clinic, have improved their performance, and some are even performing at higher levels that pre-injury.
START Training is also running Kids and Adolescence classes. If you’d like more information or guidance about injury prevention in youth sports or more information about the classes, Please contact the clinic on 0411 299 110 or via our website https://starttraining.net.au to find out more. Our Experienced Exercise Physiologist are here to help.