Adolescent Sports Injuries

Athletic injuries occur in two different ways.

  1. Macrotrauma: an injury from a major force. Falls, collisions, sudden twisting. Examples are fractures, sprains and strains, bruises or cuts.
  2. Microtrauma is normally due to repetitive actions over a long period of time causing injury. Examples stress fractures, little league elbow, golfer’s elbow and shoulder impingement syndrome.

In high school, football accounts for the most injuries in boys, while soccer accounts for most injuries in girls.

Sprains of ligaments, muscle strains and bruises account for most of the acute injuries. However, repetitive and overuse during sports are more common in adolescents than acute injuries. Research studies have shown that up to 48 percent of high school athletes sustained one injury during their playing season.

Why are adolescents at risk for injury?

While they are still growing, the skeleton takes on the increased weight and load put forth during an athletic activity. They are not fully formed and as a result, there is increased risk for a severe injury in teens. During growth and development, agility, power, speed and motor coordination improve.

During their growth spurt, lengthening of the bones occurs before growth in the connective tissues. As a result, there may be a relative decrease in flexibility during this period. Girls tend to be more flexible than boys and peak in their flexibility around age fifteen years compared to boys who develop increased flexibility later in adolescence. Decreased flexibility may cause an increased risk for overuse injuries in both boys and girls.

There are other factors that may contribute to a teenager sustaining an athletic injury. These include the following:

  • Hazardous playing fields
  • Poor conditioning
  • Competing while injured or fatigued
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor physical fitness
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Stress
  • Weather conditions
  • Inadequate, poorly fitted, improper safety equipment
  • Teams set by age rather than size

How are athletic injuries treated?

For acute injuries, always remember the mnemonic PRICE. Sprains and strain may be treated with Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.  Fractures may require casting.  Allowing the body to heal and alleviating the swelling can allow rehabilitation process to start. After the swelling is eliminated, appropriate adjustments can be administered, scar tissue can be properly addressed and exercises can be given.

How can we prevent these athletic injuries?

The following are some of the strategies that may help teens prevent athletic injuries:

  • Get a sports physical examination before allowing participation
  • Before each training or sports event, warm up and then cool down afterward
  • Do flexibility exercises
  • Play within safe ranges for one’s age and size
  • Use proper and well fitted equipment
  • Stay physically fit
  • Begin training one to two months before the season of the sport to prevent trauma to the body
  • Gradually increase training time but not more than ten percent each week

Parents should recall the following strategies to help prevent athletic injuries in adolescents:

  • Encourage teens to participate in several different sports
  • Be sure that coaches adhere to appropriate training principles
  • Modify rules for adult games so they are appropriate for adolescents
  • Ensure contests are supervised carefully and rules strictly enforced
  • Safety is more important than winning

-MassGeneral Hospital for children