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Physicians Emphasize Safety as Athletes Practice for Upcoming Seasons

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As summer vacation winds down for students, practices are ramping up for young athletes to prepare for the fall season. Physicians encourage players and parents to take the proper steps to help prevent injury.

“While youth and high school sports are not as high-impact or fast-paced as professional sports, the potential for injury is still significant,” said Dr. Brian Mullis, chief of orthopaedic trauma services in the Smith Level I Shock Trauma Center at Eskenazi Health and associate professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “Because young athletes are still developing, injuries during this stage can have long-term effects. Prevention and prompt treatment are key.”

More than 1.35 million kids ages 19 and younger were seen at emergency departments in the United States for sports injuries in 2012, according to a study by Safe Kids Worldwide. The study found that football is the sport in which the most injuries occur. Basketball, soccer and baseball follow in rank for injury rates.

There are two main types of injuries that commonly occur in sports. Acute injuries occur because of some type of trauma on the field, for example a collision with an object or another player; and overuse injuries occur in parts of the body that are used repeatedly without enough rest.

The most common acute injuries in high school athletes include contusions, sprains, strains and fractures. Proper safety equipment and techniques are crucial to preventing acute injuries. While not all of these types of injuries are avoidable, if an athlete does sustain an acute injury, they should seek immediate medical care.

Overuse injuries are becoming more and more common as young athletes participate in sports year round. When a joint, muscle or other body party is used repeatedly without enough time between playing to heal, overuse injuries, like stress fractures, can occur.

Baseball pitchers, for example, are often known to have overuse injuries. The Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery reports a 10-fold increase in elbow surgery over the last decade for young pitchers in baseball due to overuse injuries.

Injury at a young age can have long-term consequences, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. If left untreated, some injuries may result in conditions that require surgery as an adult, lead to the development of arthritis or cause permanent disability. If growth plates – soft tissue at the end of bones that hardens when a child is fully-grown – are damaged in children, it can affect their bone growth.

Dr. Mullis recommends proper training and management to help prevent injuries and keep sports fun. Some tips include:

  • Strength train and stretch. These are just as important as conditioning and will help to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Hydrate. If an athlete waits until they are thirsty to drink fluids, they are already dehydrated. Muscles need water to function properly, and dehydration can be dangerous on humid or hot days.
  •  Never play through the pain. Seek medical advice before an injury becomes chronic or requires surgery.
  •  Beware of playing on multiple teams in the same sport in the same season. This can quickly lead to an overuse injury, especially for athletes who throw.
  • Get a pre-season physical. This is especially important if an athlete has any lingering pain from a previous season.

Dr. Mullis also says it is important to protect against heat-related illness, such as heatstroke or heat exhaustion, on the field. It is not uncommon for athletes to have more than one practice or training session each day, which results in significant loss of fluid and salt through sweat. Hydrate well before, during and after practice or a game; and encourage athletes to take breaks if they feel they are overheating. Keep in mind that any temperature above 80 degrees or humidity above 75 percent can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions while participating in physical activity.

For a serious sport or other injury, call 911 or visit an emergency department immediately. The Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department at Eskenazi Health, located at the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital, is one of the busiest emergency departments in the state, providing care in more than 100,000 patients each year. The Smith Level I Shock Trauma Center is the first of only two verified adult Level I trauma centers in the state and cares for 2,000 patients with traumatic injuries each year. Together, these facilities provide a complete range of quality emergency and trauma care, including orthopaedic trauma services, and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and highly skilled providers, able to treat a wide array of injuries or illnesses.

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