October 20, 2021

How Pediatric Physical Therapy Helps With Children’s Sports Injuries

Physical therapy gets children back in the game after an injury

Key takeaways:

  • 3.5 million children experience sports injuries every year.
  • The most common types of injuries include strains/sprains, overuse injuries, broken bones, and concussions.
  • The most common body parts injured include the ankles, knees, muscles, shins, tendons, and hips.
  • Pediatric physical therapy can help reduce inflammation and chronic pain in kids, restore their range of motion and flexibility, and build muscle strength.

Before the pandemic, around 55.1% of children ages 6-17 participated on youth sports teams or took sport lessons after school or on weekends. The US Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal of improving that stat to 63.3% of youth by 2030. Participating in sports is a great way for children and teens to get regular exercise and learn valuable lessons about teamwork, perseverance, and leadership. It also helps them to learn how to handle disappointment and failure.

An unfortunate side effect of youth sports is that children can sometimes experience sports injuries that require pediatric physical therapy to properly heal. Physical therapy is a great option for treating sports injuries and usually has kids up and running again with little downtime. We discuss some of the most common sports injuries, when physical therapy is necessary, and some of the exercises used to help youths recover and get back in the game.

The facts about youth sports and injuries

Around 3.5 million children in the U.S. (14 or younger) experience sports injuries every year. In fact, one-third of all the injuries children experience happen while playing sports. Some sports are more prone to causing injuries than others. They include:

  1. Basketball
  2. Football
  3. Soccer
  4. Ice hockey
  5. Cheerleading
  6. Baseball/Softball
  7. Volleyball

Other sports, from swimming and gymnastics to track and field, also run the risk of causing injuries. Being physically active is great for kids but it can lead to injuries, often minor. Children should always wear the protective required gear for the sport they’re playing.

Most common sports injuries

Children and teens can experience a range of injuries in sports. Some are due to contact with other players or objects like balls. Others experience injuries due to repetitive motions or overuse., What are the most common types of injuries?

  • Ankle injuries
  • Pulled muscles
  • Shin splints
  • Knee injuries
  • Tennis elbow (tendinitis)
  • Hip flexor injuries

Kids bounce back quicker than adults but the injuries they experience should still be treated and monitored quickly. Even minor strains and sprains can cause muscle imbalance or lack of mobility. Let’s look at four common types of sports injuries kids experience.

1. Strains, sprains, and bruises

These types of injuries occur most often in contact sports like football, but they can just as easily happen playing other sports.

Strains refer to injuries to muscles or tendons, which connect the muscles to bones. They occur when the muscles/tendons get overstretched. This can lead to minor injuries or more serious ones that involve a partial or complete tear. Previously minor strains were typically treated with the P.R.I.C.E. principle – Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. While these principles may be helpful, new research is promoting mobilization as soon as possible. Physical Therapists can help your child introduce early mobility gradually, within the limits of pain and as safely as possible to help your child return to sports more quickly and safely. Some strains may also lead to major injuries that might require surgery to repair the damage, followed by physical therapy.

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments, which connect two bones at the joints. Again, minor sprains can be treated similarly to strains and with the use of compression bandages. A major sprain may require physical therapy.

A bruise occurs when soft tissue gets bumped, causing small blood vessels under the skin to break. Children typically get bruises from bumping into things. They don’t typically require physical therapy and can usually be treated with ice packs, elevation, heat, and pain medication if necessary.

2. Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries occur due to repetitive motions made over an extended period. For instance, throwing a baseball, swimming strokes, bumping a volleyball, or tennis serves. This can lead to conditions such as bursitis, tendonitis, and other overuse injuries.

Rest and braces can help relieve pain, but physical therapy can help get rid of inflammation and chronic pain, restore full range of motion, and help build up muscle strength to prevent further injuries.

3. Broken bones and fractures

Some sports injuries result in broken bones or fractures. The bone will need to be immobilized by a splint or cast, depending on the severity of the break/fracture. This helps the bone heal, although this period of inactivity can result in stiffness and weakness in the muscles and joints requiring physical therapy to assist with return to sport care.

Breaks involve more than bones, however. The surrounding joints, ligaments, and tendons may also get injured, and they can sometimes take longer to heal than bones. Physical therapy can help restore range of motion and combat stiffness.

4. Concussions

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that results from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. The bump/blow causes the head and brain to “bounce around” quickly or even twist in the skull. This sets off a chemical reaction in the brain. A serious concussion can even damage brain cells.

While concussions are classified as a “mild” brain injury – as in they’re usually not life-threatening – they can be serious if not treated appropriately. Repeated concussions over a long period can also result in more permanent and debilitating brain and neurological damage.

Concussions require careful monitoring and rest until the symptoms go away and the injury fully heals. Physical therapy should never start until symptoms have improved. Once symptoms have improved, it can assist with vestibular, balance, and vision side effects. Always consult your family physician or pediatrician before returning to normal activities.

How pediatric physical therapy can help your child recover from a sports injury 

Treating a sports injury depends on the severity. For example, minor strains, sprains, and tears of tendons, muscles, and ligaments may be treated with rest, ice, compression, or elevation; however, early mobilization is vital to return to sports more quickly and safely and prevent further injuries. Physical therapists can safely assist with this. On the other hand, major strains and tears might require surgery to repair the damage, followed by physical therapy.

With overuse injuries, rest and braces can help relieve pain. However, physical therapy might be needed to help get rid of inflammation and chronic pain, restore full range of motion, and build up muscle strength to prevent further injuries.

While a splint or cast is usually the best way to help bones heal, the period of forced inactivity can lead to muscle atrophy, weakness, and stiffness. Physical therapy can help restore range of motion and flexibility, and build muscle strength to prevent further injuries.

Finally, a child or teen who suffers a concussion might require physical therapy to help improve and train movements or return to a full range of motion and strength.

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 pediatric physical therapy to help restore range of motion, flexibility, and muscle strength so your child can return to the court or field.

We help kids develop the strength and balance needed to be successful by working on:

  • Gross motor and fine motor delays
  • Generalized muscle strengthening
  • Gait training
  • Body awareness
  • Coordination skills
  • Functional skills such as stairs
  • Neuromotor reeducation following traumatic injury (spinal cord or brain injury)
  • Generalized movement and strengthening

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.

Our services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

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.

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