WARE — With the intention of developing athletes’ skills in various sports, including football, soccer, field hockey, basketball, and cheerleading, summer sports camps offer a curriculum designed for student athletes at all levels.
“Participation in youth sports camps during the summer months can offer plenty of exercise and physical activity and can help student athletes develop a wide variety of skills,” said Peter Ouellette, physical therapist and manager of Rehabilitation Services at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, adding that an estimated 40 million kids throughout the country participate in athletic activities both in and out of school each year.
However, he went on, “while it’s a great way for young athletes to prepare for tryouts and competition in the fall and winter sports programs, one in 10 of those students will end up with an injury or illness. Most of these injuries are to the lower extremity and are commonly contusions, blisters, and abrasions. Muscle strains and joint sprains may also occur at a lower frequency, and we have also become much more aware of the potential for, and screening of, sports concussion, especially in the contact sports. Fatigue, dehydration, and poor conditioning can obviously play a role in sports injury, though poor choices in clothing, especially footwear, can also be a factor.”
Some discomfort is normal with the onset of a new or renewed sports activity, such as muscle aches or stiffness after hard practice. When an overuse injury occurs, young athletes should modify the intensity, duration, and/or frequency of the activity to allow the body to recover and heal itself. This distress is known as ‘delayed-onset muscle soreness,’ and the discomfort develops one or two days after the beginning of intense activity and typically lasts three to five days. Although performance may be reduced for a few days, the body accommodates to the new stress as the muscles become conditioned.
Students, coaches, and parents should be aware of the signs signaling the progressive onset of an overuse injury: initially feeling pain at the beginning of activity, then discomfort throughout practice, leading to soreness during and after practice, particularly pain lasting for several days. An athlete limping during practice and games should be immediately assessed by an athletic trainer or physical therapist to establish the severity of the condition and the potential need for rest and/or physician referral.
“An overuse injury is preventable,” said Ouellette. “You can’t just put ice on these injuries and expect them to go away. Recovery is often slow and very difficult to achieve. Early recognition, rest periods, and specific treatment of an injury are key to preventing a chronic condition and getting the player back on the field.”
A warmup followed by a light stretching program prior to athletic activity is recommended. Stretching following sports participation may help the body prepare for the next bout of exercise. Slow, sustained stretching is significantly safer and more effective than bouncing. As beneficial as stretching is, it is not a cure-all and will not prevent injuries from occurring when athletes push their bodies too far.
“One important item to remember is that, when injury does occur, full recovery is never guaranteed, so prevention really is the key,” said Ouellette. “Athletes must get fit for their sport rather than use the sport to get fit. Student athletes should see the camp’s athletic trainer if they are having any excessive or prolonged discomfort, so that the problem can be addressed before it develops into a serious injury.
“If protective gear is required for a game, it’s important for practice, too. Warm up and stay hydrated for practice just as you would for a game,” Ouellette went on, offering these additional tips:
• Make sure all protective gear is the right size and properly adjusted;
• Never play through an injury. Get immediate help from a coach or trainer, and be sure to mention everything that hurts or aches;
• Rest often and rehydrate with water or an electrolyte sports drink. In two hours of activity, student athletes can lose a quart of fluid by sweating;
• Follow the rules. In most sports, the rules are based on not only sportsmanship but safety;
• Don’t break in new footwear during camp. Bring two pairs of cleats and socks, especially if the grass is wet with morning dew or rain; and
• Have a topical anti-chafing product in your sports bag to apply at the first indication of chafing or a blister.