Ensuring a Safe Return to Spring Sports
Most children have made their way back to school, and for some that will also mean back to the field for spring sports and activities. Sports medicine physicians say there could be some concern about the potential of increased risk of injury after the extended time of physical inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. David Hirschi, MD, Sports Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care, outlines best practices for injury prevention as students get back in the game.
Take Necessary Precautions
“As student athletes return to their normal sports schedules, let’s be sure everyone – coaches, parents and care providers – are taking necessary precautions to help keep athletes safe and healthy,” said Dr. Hirschi.
To help avoid injury, coaches, parents and athletes should follow these recommendations:
- Warm up and cool-down properly before an activity
- Use proper training and technique
- Increase training gradually
- Drink enough water
- Rest and take breaks when needed
Dr. Hirschi also suggested three key steps students should take when preparing to get back to sports:
Visit your doctor: A sports physical, which is required for young athletes, is a good opportunity for families to connect with their care team. Sports physicals are important because they help ensure students are as healthy as possible for their age, with the goal of training and competing safely. Providers can typically give a good assessment on ‘return to play’ and how much time and energy should be spent preparing. Oftentimes doctors will check range of motion in ligaments and cardiac health to make sure you’re ready to hit the playing field.
“Sports physicals bring young people to the doctor for a check-up when they are feeling good,” he explained. “We get to touch base during an important time in a young person’s growth and development when there are a lot changes from year to year.”
Get physical: Athletes should begin practicing at home three to four weeks before the season starts, and slowly work their way up to prepare for team practice. Athletes should recognize that it may take time to get back to previous ability.
“Don’t compare yourself to others or where you were in previous years,” he said. “Many are just getting back into sports again. It’s important that we get moving again without injuring ourselves. Let’s be honest with ourselves as to where we truly are with our physical fitness level and choose activities that match that level. Go slowly and listen to your body, gradually build up to the level of activity you were. Your body will tell you when it’s being overstressed; listen to your body, go slowly and take a break when you need it.”
Stretch it out: Keep your muscles and ligaments loose by stretching muscles before and after workouts. Practice agility drills, balance, and strengthen your core to help prevent injury.
Dr. Hirschi also added that just because your child plays multiple sports throughout the year, it does not mean they’re fully prepared for their upcoming spring sport.
“Even when you transition from one sport to another, you may be at risk because the muscles you use from one sport to another can be different,” he said. “That’s why conditioning is so important. It can help prevent certain injuries.”
Know the Signs of an Injury
If children suffer from an injury there are signs to watch for, and some injuries may require a trip to the doctor’s office. Dr. Hirschi adds that children will sometimes play through pain, but that could worsen the injury.
Parents should pay close attention for possible signs such as a concussion which could lead to dizziness, blurred vision, unbalanced and/or not being able to concentrate. Dr. Hirschi said a concussion should be evaluated by a doctor. Other signs could include your child not using an arm or leg as they usually would. He said that anything that lasts longer than a week should result in a trip to your provider.
Dr. Hirschi said it’s also important for parents to get involved and it can be as simple as going for a jog with the family or throwing a ball around in the backyard.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of going out and doing it with them,” he said. “Our children look to us as role models. If we make exercise and healthy living a priority, they will likely do the same. These good habits start early, and parents are the best teachers.”