By Dr. Alexander Weber | Keck Medicine of USC
Your teenager has practiced hard and made the high school team, but does your athlete know how to prevent an injury from happening?
Winter has officially ended, and everywhere across the country, high school athletes are taking to the field for the spring season. It’s a challenging and rewarding experience that will provide benefits that last a lifetime. It’s also a time for coaches, parents and players to be mindful of the very real risk of injury.
According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, high school athletes are treated for about 2 million injuries each year, accounting for 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations. Although those statistics may sound frightening, the good news is that many of these injuries are preventable.
Whether your teenager is playing baseball, lacrosse, volleyball or track and field this spring, you can share these common-sense tips to help keep him or her on the field and injury-free.
1. Gradually increase activity level. Starting spring sports shouldn’t be like flipping on a light switch, going from zero activity to intense practice. Progress your level to increase performance and prevent injuries.
2. Keep body strength symmetric. It’s important for your body to be symmetric in strength, regardless of whether you are right arm/leg or left arm/leg dominant. Studies show that athletes who have asymmetric body strength are more prone to injuries, so focus on making strength and flexibility equal on both sides of your body.
3. Work on strength and aerobic fitness. Even athletes whose sport is upper body or lower body based need to be well rounded in both strength and aerobic fitness. A baseball player, for example, needs core body strength and lower body strength to promote a strong base for upper body activity.
4. Recover between exercise sessions. It’s not always easy for athletes to eat the right things, stay hydrated and get enough rest, but all of these things are important for athletic performance. Get at least 7½ to 8 hours of sleep a night and stay hydrated throughout the day.
5. Avoid overuse. When athletes don’t give themselves enough rest between events, they are at risk for overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are related to muscle fatigue. When the muscles become fatigued, the athlete has a more difficult time controlling body position and protecting joints and ligaments. Baseball pitchers are very susceptible to shoulder and elbow overuse injuries due to fatigue. Lacrosse players are susceptible to knee injuries (especially anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL injuries) due to muscle fatigue.
6. Be a well-rounded student. Pursue excellence on and off the field. Staying engaged in academics and keeping your grades up promotes athletic excellence.
7. Speak up if you think you have an injury. Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, injuries happen. If you think you’ve been hurt, don’t keep it to yourself. Find your school trainer and tell them about it. Talk to your parents and always consult a medical professional.
8. Get more information. Visit stopsportsinjuries.org for more tips on how student athletes and parents can prevent sports injuries.
Visit keckmedicine.org or call (800) USC-CARE for an appointment. Weber is a specialist in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery at Keck Medicine of USC and practices at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and the main USC Health Sciences campus. He has worked with elite athletes, including the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls, and currently is a team physician for Trojan Athletics. In 2016, he became a volunteer consultant for La Cañada High School athletics.