Across the United States, nearly 30 million children and teens participate in organized sports every year. Of them, almost 12 percent, or more than 3.5 million, suffer an injury that can cause time out from school, lost participation time, alter their physical development, and contribute to lifelong pain.
Injuries that include muscle strains and stress fractures are becoming more common among young athletes as they face an increasingly competitive culture and a drive to succeed. The rise of traumatic brain injuries as a result of impact sports and an increase in knee injuries have made innovative treatment options vital to the future of young athletes. At the same time, the field of sports injury recovery has progressed dramatically in the past decade or so. Improved technology and treatments are helping young student-athletes recover faster and easier.
“Children and adolescents are a unique cohort of athletes. They are actively learning and developing new skills, not only honing established skill levels. Their bodies are actively growing and changing, exposing them to unique injuries not seen in adults,” Drs. Mark R. Hutchinson and Rima Nasser said in the Medscape article, “Common Sports Injuries in Children and Adolescents.”
Central to injury prevention and recovery are interscholastic athletic directors who work to ensure that the practice fields and equipment are safe and educate parents, coaches, and athletes about potential dangers. Athletic directors, including those who earn a master’s in athletic administration online, can assist in the recovery process for all athletes by keeping current with the latest advancements in injury treatments.
Innovative Treatments for Student-Athlete Injuries
When it comes to injury treatment, children are not merely small adults. Because sports injuries are typically orthopedic, many childhood sports injuries can impact the growth plates or the areas of growing tissue at the ends of long bones. Doctors are cautious about treatments that might damage a growth plate and affect lifelong physical development.
“Kids get different injuries from adults,” sports medicine Dr. Alison Brooks said. “Their skeletons are growing and changing. So how we look at treating an ACL tear and other injuries is often quite different in children than in adults.”
In the past decade or so, researchers have taken a closer look at childhood sports injuries as they become more prevalent. These are some of the latest treatment options for common student-athlete injuries:
- Knee ligament injuries
Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) can be devastating to young athletes because they don’t heal quickly and can be reinjured easily. Physicians are now using medical biotechnology, or living cells, to treat injuries and reduce healing time.One of the newest biotech solutions involves using sponge-like biological material as scaffolding to form a bridge between the torn ligament pieces. Some physicians are also using stem cells to promote ACL healing in children, but more studies need to be completed to determine the efficacy.
- Muscle and tendon injuries
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is injected into the damaged tissue and has been successfully used to treat chronic overuse injuries. Additional research is underway to determine its effectiveness in muscle injuries. Created by spinning the patient’s blood in a centrifuge, PRP comes in various concentrations and contains growth factors that support healing.Physicians are also using aquatic therapy to prevent and treat sports injuries in both children and adults. The newest technology includes underwater video observation and varying floor movements for differing exercise levels.
- Brain injuries
Probably one of the most talked-about sports injuries in both children and adults is traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of contact sports such as football, soccer, and hockey. Scientists have developed technology that helps injured athletes both before and after a brain injury.Pre-season baseline screening allows physicians to determine an athlete’s cognitive function before an injury. The testing includes looking at memory and learning skills, attention and cognition, and problem-solving. Some schools are also using specially equipped helmets that track collisions.Researchers are also looking at ways to detect the level of tau proteins, a biomarker for brain injuries, to determine an athlete’s readiness to return to sports.
Athletic Directors and Injury Prevention
Athletic directors play a significant role in helping prevent injuries by hiring the right coaches and athletic trainers to help students. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) said athletic directors could take these other measures to prevent student athlete injuries:
- Make routine checks of the athletic facilities where games and practices are held.
- Monitor for extreme heat or cold and make alternative arrangements for practices and games if needed.
- Urge students to undergo pre-participation physical exams to detect any pre-existing medical conditions.
- Teach athletes and parents about the importance of proper nutrition, rest, hydration, strength training, and conditioning.
- Encourage collaboration between the athletic director, coaches, athletic trainers, students, and parents.
- Have a game day, pre-hospital plan for possible injuries.
As the administrator who oversees athletics programs in elementary, middle, and high schools, athletic directors are ultimately responsible for student-athlete safety. Athletic directors who earn a master’s in athletic administration online through Ohio University take coursework in ethics, management, leadership, and policy development, which can help with plans to help prevent athlete injuries.
About Ohio University’s Master’s in Athletic Administration (MAA) Online
Ohio University is a leader in sports education, creating the first academic program in the field of sports administration. The MAA prepares students for roles in interscholastic athletic administration to lead interscholastic athletic departments.
Ohio University’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, contact an Ohio University advisor today.
Youth Sports Injuries Statistics: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Common Sports Injuries in Children and Adolescents: Medscape
Age Matters: Treating Sports Injuries Requires a Thoughtful Approach: UW Health
Health Check: University Orthopedics discovers new treatment for ACL injuries: News 10
How Technology Is Improving Sports Injury Prevention and Recovery: Industry Tap
FAQs about Baseline Testing: CDC
New tool to determine when athletes can resume sports after concussion may be available soon: Healio
The Role of Athletic Directors in Injury Prevention: NFHS