Aching to play
Skinned knees and bruises are practically part of the uniform for most young athletes, but the ever-increasing competition among youth sports teams has also been cause for a rise in more severe injuries that doctors say can cause problems well into adulthood.
“We see a lot of kids, especially with skiing and snowboarding, who have ACL and meniscus tears,” said Truckee orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Dodd. “We know that almost 100 percent of these people end up with arthritis. Stuff that happens when you’re young definitely impacts you when you’re older.”
Sports injuries can be dangerous for athletes of all ages, but players in their mid- to late-teen years are most at risk for injuries that will stick with them for life.
“I think it’s the 15- to 16-year-olds [who are most at risk] because they are starting to get into elite athletics and they make a big jump up,” Dodd said. “We tend to see a lot more of the knee and joint injuries, whereas before that age it tends to just be broken bones.”
Pre-teen and early teens are at particular risk for broken bones because they are still growing and their bones are still generating new tissue around the growth plates, Dodd said. The growth plate is the weakest part of the bone and is where all growth occurs. The plates usually close down in girls around age 14, and in boys around 16 or 17. But prior to the plates closing down, they are the bone area most susceptible to breaks, he said.
Athletic coaches say that a good way to avoid injury is to keep things mixed up by playing different sports, rather than focusing on just one sport year-round. Coaches also stressed the value of maintaining a high level of fitness during both the on- and off-season.
“I think that one of the most important things now is a training program with weight training and cardiovascular training. We’ve found that it’s the most effective way to avoid injuries. And then if they do get injured, the period that they are out is much shorter,” said North Lake Tahoe high school athletic director Scott Everist.
But even swapping sports can be tough on the body if the sports activities selected place stress on the same parts of the body. Tennis and baseball, for example, are harsh on shoulders, while skiing and running are tough on knees.
Each sport comes with it’s own set of risks and athletes should be aware that prolonged stress to any one part of the body can leave lasting marks.
They should also know that some injuries seem to target one gender over the other.
“Females are often more likely to have ligament tears than boys,” Dodd said. It has to do with a number of things; hormones, body build, and the fact that boys tend to be better-conditioned than girls.”
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