Considering the high incidence of injuries among high school athletes -- more than one million injuries annually, nearly half of them from football -- you'll want to make sure your kids are prepared to safely engage in sports. Here's how you can help your kids stay safe on the field this year.
The Basics of Injury Prevention
The most common types of sports injuries are ligament sprains, muscle strains, and bone stress fractures. Fortunately, implementing the right training methods and nutritional habits can help prevent injury and improve recovery. Here are some of the key principles of injury prevention that you can impart to your high school athletes to make sure they stay safe this season:
- Take time off so that the body can recover from training.
- Always wear appropriate protective equipment on the field.
- Strengthen the muscles involved in the athlete's particular sport.
- Work on improving flexibility.
- Make sure the athlete knows the proper technique for executing the movements involved in the sport.
- Take regular breaks from play within games and training sessions.
- Follow all rules of the game, especially those geared toward ensuring the athletes' safety.
- Don't fight through pain: Stop playing if there's a possible injury.
- When playing in the heat, drink plenty of fluids, avoid excessive exertion, and wear light clothing.
Stronger Is Safer
With regard to training, the best way your high school athletes can keep themselves from getting injured is to strengthen their muscles. Stretching and muscle strengthening are particularly effective in injury prevention. Stretching helps to increase muscle compliance and thus improve the muscle-tendon unit's ability to store and release elastic energy. This is especially important for sports that involve high-intensity stretch-shortening movements such as bouncing and jumping -- football and soccer, for example.
Meanwhile, resistance training helps boost bone mineral density, increases connective tissue size and strength, and improves muscle function, all of which help to limit injury potential. Eccentric training (muscle-lengthening contractions) allows for even greater overloading of the muscle. Emphasizing the eccentric component of a lift -- for example, the down movement of a squat or bench press -- can induce rapid improvements in strength compared to traditional, concentric components (muscle-shortening contractions) of a workout. A focus on muscle-lengthening exercises thus assist in decreasing the rate of muscle-tendon unit injury.
Fueling for the Game
Proper nutrition can also help prevent injuries and promote recovery. Improper nutrition may result in inadequate energy intake, glycogen depletion, dehydration and poor iron status. These can make an athlete more susceptible to exercise-related fatigue, which limits their ability to play at the desired pace and intensity and can increase injury risk. To combat fatigue, make sure your athlete stays properly hydrated, gets adequate nutrition, and takes in sufficient fats and calcium.
In addition to implementing the right exercise and nutrition habits, have your child consult with their health care professional for advice on preventing injury in their specific sport. Make an appointment to swing by the doctor's office on your next outing to pick up back-to-school supplies -- your high school athlete's health may depend on it.