Explaining pediatric physical therapy for youth sports injuries
- 3.5 million children experience sports injuries every year
- The most common types of injuries are strains/sprains, overuse injuries, broken bones, and concussions.
- The most common body parts injured include ankles, knees, and hips, and pulled muscles, shin splints, and tendonitis are the most common conditions experienced.
- Pediatric physical therapy can help reduce inflammation and chronic pain, restore range of motion and flexibility, and build muscle strength.
If your child is one of the millions of teens participating in youth sports, there’s a good chance they will get injured at some point. Whether mild or severe, sports injuries sometimes require physical therapy to heal properly.
Physical therapy and sports injuries
A 2019 survey on children’s health found that 55.1% of children 6-17 participated in youth sports teams or took sports lessons. Unfortunately, around 3.5 million children get hurt every year, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Additional facts on youth sports injuries include:
- Sports injuries and recreational activities account for 21% of traumatic brain injuries in American youths.
- Over 775,000 American children under 14 are treated in ERs for sports-related injuries each year.
- One in four injuries are considered serious.
- Most injuries are the result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion.
- Around 62% of injuries occur during practice.
The most common youth sports injuries
What are the most common types of sports injuries for kids and teens?
- Strains, sprains, and tears (of muscles, tendons, or ligaments)
- Overuse and repetitive motion injuries
- Bone fractures
- Head injuries/concussions
- Joint injuries (of ankles, knees, hips, and elbows)
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments make it possible to play sports, but they’re also common injury sites. Injuries to them often occur in contact sports like football and activities that require a lot of sudden stops/starts or abrupt shifts in direction like basketball or baseball/softball.
The three most common injuries involving muscles and tendons are strain tears (or complete ruptures), which can be minor or significant.
Joint injuries: strains
Strains happen when tissues get stretched or torn, usually because the body has done too much. They don’t always need medical attention – sometimes, just resting the area will do. Minor injuries might only need ice treatments, but your child can also wear compression bandages around the house to help stabilize certain areas. Elevation can also help reduce swelling and inflammation.
Joint injuries: sprains
A sprain is an injury in which the ligaments are damaged. Sprains are most common in the ankles and wrist joints. There’s no single cure for sprains, but they can be treated with ice packs or elevation. Compression bandages may help, depending on the severity.
Slow, gradual, pain-free mobility is also very effective in speeding the healing process and promoting blood flow. Consulting a physical therapist may assist will this and speed recovery to promote a return to the sport.
If you notice any drainage from the joint, visit an orthopedic specialist right away, as this could be a sign of significant damage. Physical therapy may help with the healing process and prevent further injury.
Ligaments are essential to the function and stability of the body. They’re tough but flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone, as well as different joints. Lymph nodes found along the bands help ensure proper blood flow by narrowing off certain areas while letting others pass freely.
The ligaments that connect your bones are strong, but they can be stretched or even torn. Extreme force, such as a fall, collision with other players, or even the ground can cause torn ligaments. This will result in various levels of sprain injury.
Physical therapy is usually recommended to help restore the function and strength of the ligament and joint. The recovery time depends on the severity of the injury, but in some cases, it can be as short as two weeks. Unfortunately, severe ligament injuries can take up to a year to completely heal.
Overexertion and overuse injuries
Overuse or overexertion injuries are common among athletes who make repetitive motions in sports like baseball/softball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. Rest and braces can help your child heal from overuse injuries.
Physical therapy may be necessary if you’re dealing with a severe or chronic injury. Therapy can help relieve inflammation and pain while restoring a full range of motion to prevent future problems with movement or improve muscle strength. Physical therapy will also help teach your child to use their muscles more functionally and appropriately to prevent future injuries.
Bone breaks and fractures are a “worst-case scenario” type of sports injury. If your child experiences a fracture, it’s essential to immobilize the injured area with splints or a cast while the bone heals. Splints and casts will keep the limb immobile until the bone heals and prevent further damage to joints, ligaments, or tendons, and the risk of ecchymosis (skin discoloration/ purpling). Severe breaks may require surgery to help repair the bone, followed by several weeks in a cast.
While a cast will help your child heal, it can also cause muscle atrophy, weakness, and stiffness. Once it comes off, your child may need physical therapy to regain complete function, strength, and range of motion to prevent further injury.
Brain injuries: concussions
A concussion is an umbrella term that refers to mild traumatic brain injury. The damage results from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, which causes the brain tissue damage and can lead to temporary cognitive changes and other symptoms.
This action causes a chemical reaction in the brain in even mild concussions. A severe concussion can damage the brain cells. Repeated concussions that are left untreated – or that aren’t allowed to heal correctly – can lead to dizziness, pain, numbness, and even neurological damage or severe disability later in life.
Concussions require medical attention right away to rule out bleeding in the brain as this is a medical emergency. If left untreated, bleeding can lead to death. Physical therapy shouldn’t start until your child has entirely healed since improper movement can further inflame the injured area. Consult with a neurologist or your child’s doctor immediately when it occurs and before returning to normal activities.
Treatment after a sports injury
Before undergoing physical therapy, it’s essential to know the type and severity of your child’s injury, so visit their pediatrician or a hospital if necessary, first. This will dictate the treatment protocol. Major strains, sprains, and tears usually require physical therapy. Therapy is generally recommended after surgery, as well.
Get help for your child after a sports injury
If your child experiences a sports injury, you can help him or her recover at Lumiere Children’s Therapy. We offer full-service physical therapy to help restore range of motion, flexibility, and muscle strength. All of our physical therapists hold DPTs (Doctorates of Physical Therapy). We have a team of physical therapists who apply a team-based approach to therapy to collaborate, mentor, and teach alongside one another.
Lumiere Children’s Therapy also provides other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.
- Speech Therapy
- ABA (Behavior) Therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Developmental Therapy
- Social Work
- Augmentative Alternative Communication
- Early Intervention
Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.