Keeping your young athlete happy and healthy

Football is generally a safe and effective exercise. Nonetheless injuries often occur, even ones we don’t expect.

With recent headlines describing footballers developing dementia from heading too many balls in their careers, it got me thinking about the effects of playing sports over time; especially in children.

Parents love to see their children active and taking part in sport. It can benefit their development by improving coordination, balance, strength and their cardiovascular and respiratory capabilities.

That said, children through to the end of puberty are susceptible to fractures and specific paediatric conditions that can be aggravated by excessive sporting activity or overtraining. Here are just a few examples… 

Football: can result in muscle strains and sprains due to the stop-start nature of the game, and heading the ball can lead to eventual degenerative changes in the neck.

- Gymnastics: excessive tumbling, jumping and extension of the spine can cause stress fractures in the lower back, which will also lead to wear and tear.

- Netball: goal positions (attack, shooter, keeper and defence) require a lot of neck extension in order to look up at the post, causing hyper mobility of the neck joints. It also tightens the neck muscles leaving the child prone to headaches.

- Running: some children have well-aligned joints and a natural technique for running. On the other hand, many have flat feet or knock knees, and these children really struggle with running. Running is of course great for the heart, however running with poor biomechanics can be detrimental to the joints in the long term. 

Further to this is the fact that a child’s bones are weaker than an adult’s. Inversely, an adult’s ligaments are weaker in comparison to a child’s, so where an adult may strain a ligament as a result of sporting activities, a child may sustain a fracture.

The most vulnerable area in a child’s bones is around the growth plates, and these are situated close to the joints. At Not Just Backs we always advise seeking paediatric opinion following trauma to a joint, as an undiagnosed growth plate fracture could lead to abnormalities in the bone further down the line.

The children we treat tend to experience pain from sporting activities where their enthusiasm gets them into trouble, but don’t worry, these are often simple to treat and can help avoid more serious injuries or problems later in life.

But what should you look out for to avoid these problems in the first place?

Look at your child’s developing body – are they well-aligned? Do they have flat feet? Do you notice a slight spinal curve? Is their head held a little off centre? Can their muscles cope with the forces in their chosen sport? Are they stretching enough?

Look out for these signs, as they will indicate that your child isn’t moving or holding their body properly, and could be setting them up for problems in the future. We’ve found that children aren’t watched carefully enough by their sports teachers due to such large classes, therefore leading to poor technique.

So if your child is sporty then get them checked regularly!

They are still growing which, despite what you may think, never happens evenly – a common example of this is the thigh bones growing at different speeds and resulting in very slight differences in leg length.

If your child is active or playing regular sport and comments on recurrent pain, then it is time to seek professional medical advice.

Early detection of sport-related conditions is essential, and in many cases the symptoms can easily be calmed by adapting activities to the child’s needs and an appropriate treatment plan.

 If you feel that your child could benefit from seeing an expert osteopath today, then please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01722 512043.

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