Physical Therapist Offers Safety Tips for Summer Sports and Camps

WARE — Participation in a youth sports camp during the summer months can offer plenty of exercise and physical activity, and can help student athletes develop a wide variety of skills. But injuries are common, and most are the result of fatigue and poor conditioning.

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.

An overuse injury is preventable, says Peter Ouellette, physical therapist and manager of Rehabilitation Services at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital. 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 just after practice; any limping during practice and games; and, finally, pain noted in the morning and throughout the day.

“You can’t just put ice on these injuries and expect them to go away,” Ouellette said. “Recovery is often slow and very difficult to achieve. Early recognition and treatment of an injury are key to preventing a chronic condition and getting the player back on the field.”

But there is also what is called ‘acceptable pain,’ which goes away in a reasonable amount of time, typically three to five days. Any pain lasting more than five days may indicate a more serious injury which will need the attention of a doctor or physical therapist. Also:

• When an injury does occur, Ouellette said, full recovery is never guaranteed, so prevention really is the key.

• Stretching exercises are one of the most effective ways of preventing injury. A warmup followed by a light stretching program prior to athletic activity is recommended. Stretching following sports participation may help the body prepare for its next bout of exercise. Slow, sustained stretching is significantly safer and more effective than bouncing.

• If protective gear is required for a game, it’s important for practice, too. 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 mention everything that hurt or aches.

• Rest often and rehydrate with water or an electrolyte sports drink.