Focus On Pediatrics-Get kids to warm up before sports activity

Stress benefits of stretching

On any given afternoon across America, parks and gyms are filled with children playing organized sports. A majority, when injured, will suffer sprains, contusions, abrasions, and lacerations — the most common sports injuries. How-ever, others incur more serious injuries at bone growth sites, where the bones are growing very rapidly compared to the muscles and tendons.

Osgood-Schlatter disease, an inflammation of the knee, is caused when the bones are growing at a rapid rate, but the tendons are not keeping up. While all children are susceptible, it is more common in children who play sports, explains Carl Winfield, MD, the team physician for The Ohio State University Athletic Department in Columbus. Sever's disease occurs when there is rapid growth in the region of the heel and the Achilles tendon, which attaches to that area, and it becomes inflamed.

Parents can help their children prevent those injuries by having them stretch before participating in a game. "Flexibility exercises and stretching are very useful and can decrease the chances of these types of injuries, and warming up prior to stretching increases its effectiveness," says Winfield. He recommends children run in place, do jumping jacks, or ride a stationary bike to warm up. Children should begin stretching before playing sports at around six or seven
years old, because that is the age they begin rapid growth and aren't as flexible.

Proper conditioning is important, as well. Children should gradually increase their frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise over a period of time.

Keep coaches in the loop

In addition to stretching and conditioning, parents need to work with coaches in order to prevent injuries. "They need to make sure that coaches are well educated as far as proper techniques to teach their children," says Winfield. Also, both parents and coaches need to pay attention when a child continuously complains about pain.

A limp and complaints about pain can indicate that the child has a growth plate injury. "There are areas of the bones called growth plates that become injured through overuse or trauma," explains Winfield. The injury can cause uneven growth, or growth may be stopped causing a limb length discrepancy. Nonuse heals the bone, and the growth returns to normal in most cases; however, a physician must follow the child closely. In some cases surgery is required.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics in Elk Grove Village, IL, recommended that children should not specialize in one specific sport. "It can put a lot of stress on certain parts of the body. If you are playing one sport year-round, it can possibly predispose you to more injuries," explains Winfield.

To help uncover medical problems, parents should make sure their child has a physical exam before playing sports and on an annual basis. Also, they shouldn't put too much pressure on their children. "The emphasis should be on having fun," says Winfield.

For more information on the prevention of sports injuries, contact:

Carl Winfield, MD, Team Physician, OSU Athletic Department, 21 E. State St., Suite 250, Columbus, OH 43215. Telephone: (614) 257-3560. Fax: (614) 257-3538. E-mail: Winfield-1@medctr.osu.edu.