How to minimize the risk of back-to-school sports injuries

Story by: Kip Owen, M.D.
DHR Health Orthopedic Institute

As the summer wanes and student athletes return to school, we all become excited about fall sports. COVID-19 has disturbed the rhythm of fall sports, but it has not dampened anticipation of the season! Returning to school after a summer break can add additional risk of injury as the new seasons unfold.

Athletic injuries can be divided into two types: acute injuries and overuse injuries. Acute injuries include sprains of ligaments, strains of muscles, fractures of bones, and dislocation of joints. Concussions are also acute injuries–injuries of the brain. For our area, heat illness is of particular concern as athletic practice begins.

Overuse injuries are an accumulation of microtrauma in the body. They may present as tendonitis, which is inflammation of tendons and their surrounding soft tissues. Progressive microtrauma of muscle may progress to a hamstring, quad, or calf strain. For those athletes who are still growing, repetitive athletic loading may progress to an injury that involves one of the skeletal growth plates, particularly in the lower extremity or pelvis. For all age groups, accumulated stress on the skeleton may lead to stress reactions of bone and, ultimately, stress fractures.

How can we try to minimize the risks of back-to-school sports injuries? Off-season training programs are designed to pre-condition and prepare athletes for resuming athletic training. Cross-training and participating in an alternate sport in the off-season help to round out and prepare an athlete for the new season. Proper stretching and warm-ups are essential for injury prevention. Adequate rest is mandatory to allow the body time to repair and prepare itself. Proper nutrition year-round optimizes the availability of essential building blocks for the body. Hydration, hydration, hydration is essential for body function, repair, and defense against heat illness. Coordinated progression of training intensity by coaches and trainers helps reduce injury risk while the players get in shape. Lastly, use of appropriate athletic equipment during training and competition can also help to minimize injury.

Appropriate treatment of sports injuries begins with recognition. Athletic trainers and coaches are the first level for injury recognition. Parents also play a key role in recognizing any injury of their children who are athletes. Progressive swelling, deformity, or loss of normal function of an extremity requires an appropriate medical evaluation. Also, the effect of a concussion can be insidious and may evolve over time after competition. Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, vision change, sensitivity to light or sounds, or nausea. A change in personality, mood swings, or drowsiness may also indicate the presence of a concussion. A parent’s recognition of any of these symptoms calls for an immediate medical evaluation. If the concussion symptoms are progressing, an Emergency Room evaluation is critical for safety. For other injuries, any extreme symptoms of pain or loss of physical function could also necessitate an emergent evaluation. Athletic trainers provide expert advice to parents regarding the treatment of injured athletes. Other sports injuries which require medical care should be evaluated by their primary care physician or a sports medicine specialist.

Beginning August 19, 2023, Dr. Kip Owen and his Orthopedic Sports Medicine team will offer Saturday morning injury evaluations at the DHR Health Orthopedic Institute throughout the fall sports season for athletes, parents, trainers, and coaches. Appointments are not required. For more information, contact the office today at 956-362-6683.